Have you ever suffered intense mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after concluding any examination or task that required serious concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
A similar experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a constant 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. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, turns into a problem-solving exercise necessitating deep concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably figured out that the haphazard assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and contemplate it, filling in the blanks. Just 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 socializing becomes draining, what’s the likely result? People will begin to avoid communication situations entirely.
That’s precisely why we witness many individuals with hearing loss come to be a lot less active than they used to be. This can lead to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not just fatiguing 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 period of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to depleted work productivity.
Providing support to this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Furthermore, 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 alleviate 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 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 periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, retreat to a quiet area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Try to control background music, find quiet spots to talk, and go with the less noisy areas of a restaurant.
- Read instead of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more relevant. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.