Have you ever suffered extreme mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after finishing any test or task that mandated intense concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a nonstop game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are presented with context and a few sounds and letters, but oftentimes they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural and effortless, comes to be a problem-solving exercise requiring serious concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely worked out that the arbitrary assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article in this manner and you’ll have an understanding for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.
The Personal Impact of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and socializing becomes strenuous, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to avert communication situations completely.
That’s precisely why we see many people with hearing loss become much less active than they had previously been. This can bring about social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being associated with.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not just exhausting and demoralizing for the individual: hearing loss has economic repercussions as well.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is around $300,000 per person over the period of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to depleted work productivity.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.
Tips for Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high individual and societal costs. So what can be done to mitigate its effects? Here are some tips:
- Wear Hearing aids – hearing aids help to “fill in the blanks,” thus preventing listening fatigue. While hearing aids are not perfect, they also don’t have to be—crossword puzzles are a lot easier if all the letters are filled in with the exception of one or two.
- Take occasional breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, most of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.
- Reduce background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Try to control background music, find quiet places to talk, and go with the quieter sections of a restaurant.
- Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly pertinent. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.