Have you ever suffered severe mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that mandated intensive concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
A comparable experience arises in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a nonstop 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. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, becomes a problem-solving workout requiring serious concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably realized that the random array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Imagine 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 chore, and social interaction becomes draining, what’s the likely result? People will begin to stay clear of communication situations completely.
That’s exactly why we observe many people with hearing loss become a lot 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 with.
The Societal Impact
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 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 decreased work efficiency.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered 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 Minimizing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, then, has both high personal 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 a lot easier if all the letters are filled in with the exclusion of one or two.
- Take periodic breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking periodic 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.
- Limit background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to understand. Try to control background music, find quiet locations 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 even more pertinent. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.