Have you ever suffered extreme mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after finishing any test or activity that called for serious attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
An analogous experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a persistent game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but in many cases they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural, turns into a problem-solving exercise necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely figured out that the haphazard 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. Picture having to read this entire article in this manner 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 laborious task, and socializing becomes exhausting, what’s the likely consequence? People will start to stay away from communication situations completely.
That’s why we see many people with hearing loss become much less active than they used to be. This can contribute to 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 Effects
Hearing loss is not just 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 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 depleted work efficiency.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss adversely affected household income by an average of $12,000 per year. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect it had on income.
Tips for Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high individual and economic 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 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 exception of one or two.
- Take periodic 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 routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, retreat to a calm area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to comprehend. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet areas to talk, and find the quieter areas 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 even more pertinent. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.