Have you ever suffered extreme mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or activity that required intensive concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a never-ending game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but more often than not they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural and effortless, becomes a problem-solving exercise requiring serious concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably worked out that the random array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Just imagine having to read this entire article in this manner and you’ll have an appreciation for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.
The Personal Effects of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and socializing becomes fatiguing, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to avoid communication situations completely.
That’s why we observe many individuals 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 mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected with.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not exclusively exhausting and frustrating for the individual: hearing loss has economic repercussions as well.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimates that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is around $300,000 per person over the course of each person’s life. Together, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to diminished work efficiency.
Supporting this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Additionally, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.
Tips for Minimizing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high individual and economic costs. So what can be done to minimize its effects? Here are some tips:
- Wear Hearing aids – hearing aids help to “fill in the blanks”, thus avoiding listening fatigue. While hearing aids are not perfect, they also don’t have to be—crossword puzzles are much easier if all the letters are filled in with the exclusion of one or two.
- Take routine breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, the majority of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, retreat to a calm area, or meditate.
- Reduce background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to understand. Try to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and pick out the quieter areas of a restaurant.
- Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.