Have you ever suffered intensive mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after finishing any test or task that mandated intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.
A similar experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of understanding speech, it’s like playing a continuous 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 supposed to be natural and effortless, comes to be a problem-solving exercise demanding deep concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably realized that the random assortment 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 this way and you’ll have an appreciation for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.
The Personal Impact of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes fatiguing, what’s the likely result? People will start to abstain from communication situations entirely.
That’s why we witness many individuals with hearing loss come to be much less active than they had previously been. This can result in social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being associated with.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not only exhausting and demoralizing 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 approximately $300,000 per person over the course 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 lowered work efficiency.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely impacted 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, then, has both high individual and societal 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 exception of one or two.
- Take regular breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, most 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 occasion, take a rest from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.
- Reduce background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Attempt to control background music, find quiet spots to talk, and go for the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
- Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t bad 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 break and read a book.