Have you ever suffered severe mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that called for intense concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
A similar experience arises in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. In terms of comprehending 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 more often than not they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, becomes a problem-solving exercise necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely worked out that the haphazard array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think it over, 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 Impact of Listening Fatigue
If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes tiring, what’s the likely result? People will start to avert communication situations completely.
That’s exactly the reason we observe many individuals with hearing loss become much less active than they used to be. 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 to.
The Societal Consequence
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 around $300,000 per person over the duration of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to decreased work productivity.
Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss adversely impacted 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 Minimizing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high personal and economic costs. So what can be done to reduce 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 regular 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 regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, find a calm area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet spots to talk, and choose the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
- Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly pertinent. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.