Have you ever suffered extreme mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after concluding any examination or task that mandated intense concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.
An analogous experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to comprehending 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 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, ends up being a problem-solving exercise demanding deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely realized that the arbitrary array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think about it, 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 result? People will start to pass up communication situations completely.
That’s exactly the reason we see many people with hearing loss come to be much 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 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 span 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 efficiency.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 annually. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.
Tips for Minimizing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, 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 preventing 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 occasional 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 regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Try to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and pick out the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
- Read as an alternative to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly pertinent. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.