Have you ever suffered extreme mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after finishing any examination or task that required rigorous attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a persistent 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. Speech comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably 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. Picture 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 Effects of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and socializing becomes strenuous, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to avert communication situations completely.
That’s exactly the reason we observe many people with hearing loss become much less active than they had previously been. This can lead to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked with.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not only fatiguing and frustrating 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 duration 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 decreased work productivity.
Supporting this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Furthermore, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect it had on income.
Tips for Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high individual and economic costs. So what can be done to reduce 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 much easier if all the letters are filled in with the exclusion of one or two.
- Take regular breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, the majority of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, retreat to 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 tough to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet spots to talk, and select the less noisy areas of a restaurant.
- Read instead of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.