Have you ever experienced substantial mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT exam, or after completing any examination or task that called for intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
An analogous experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. In terms of understanding speech, it’s like playing a constant game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but oftentimes 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, ends up being a problem-solving workout demanding deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably worked out that the haphazard array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and contemplate it, filling in the blanks. Picture having to read this entire article this way and you’ll have an appreciation 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 stay away from communication situations completely.
That’s the reason why we witness many people with hearing loss come to be a lot less active than they used to be. This can result in 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 fatiguing and frustrating for the individual: hearing loss has economic consequences 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. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to lowered work efficiency.
Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 per year. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact 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 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 exception of one or two.
- Take periodic breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, 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 opportunity, take a break from sound, retreat to a calm area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to comprehend. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and go with the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
- Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.