Have you ever experienced substantial mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT exam, or after finishing any examination or activity that required rigorous attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
A similar experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a never-ending game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but frequently they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, ends up being a problem-solving exercise requiring deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably figured out that the arbitrary array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Picture having to read this entire article this way and you’ll have an understanding for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.
The Personal Impact of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes tiring, what’s the likely consequence? People will start to stay away from communication situations entirely.
That’s precisely why we see many people with hearing loss become much 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.
The Societal Impact
Hearing loss is not only exhausting 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 duration 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 lowered work efficiency.
Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely affected household income by an average of $12,000 per year. 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 personal 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 routine breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a rest, the majority of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, retreat to a tranquil area, or meditate.
- Minimize background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet areas to talk, and pick out the less noisy areas of a restaurant.
- Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly pertinent. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.