Have you ever experienced intense mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any test or activity that called for intense attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A similar experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a persistent 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 decipher what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving exercise demanding serious concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely worked out that the random collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely 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 Impact of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and social interaction becomes draining, what’s the likely result? People will start to abstain from communication situations entirely.
That’s exactly the reason 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 linked to.
The Societal Impact
Hearing loss is not only exhausting and demoralizing for the individual: hearing loss has economic consequences 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 span of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to lowered work productivity.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely affected household income by an average of $12,000 per year. Furthermore, 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 personal and economic 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 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 break, the majority of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the opportunity, take a break from sound, retreat to a quiet area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and go for the quieter sections of a restaurant.
- Read as an alternative to 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.