Have you ever suffered intense mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after finishing any examination or activity that mandated intense concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to understanding 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 more often than not they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, comes to be a problem-solving workout necessitating deep concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably figured out that the arbitrary assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and contemplate it, 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 socializing becomes draining, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to avoid communication situations completely.
That’s exactly why we see many people with hearing loss come to be 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 to.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not only exhausting and frustrating for the individual: hearing loss has economic consequences 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, most of the cost is attributable to depleted work productivity.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 per year. Additionally, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect 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 offset 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 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 quiet area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Attempt to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and choose the quieter areas of a restaurant.
- Read in place of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more pertinent. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.