Have you ever experienced severe mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that required intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to crash.
A comparable experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a continual 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, ends up being a problem-solving workout demanding deep 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 likely had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article this way 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 social interaction becomes tiring, what’s the likely consequence? People will start to abstain from communication situations completely.
That’s precisely why we observe many people with hearing loss come to be a lot 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked to.
The Societal Effects
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. Together, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to lowered work productivity.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 per year. Additionally, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.
Tips for Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, then, 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 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 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 routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.
- Reduce background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Attempt to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and pick the less noisy areas of a restaurant.
- Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t bad 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.