Have you ever experienced extreme mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that required intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
An analogous experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as 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 continual 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 decipher what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout necessitating deep concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely figured out that the haphazard collection 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 in this manner 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 strenuous, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to avoid communication situations completely.
That’s why we witness many people with hearing loss become much 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 mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked to.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not exclusively exhausting 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 around $300,000 per person over the span 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 diminished work productivity.
Providing support to this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss negatively 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 Reducing Listening Fatigue
Listening fatigue, then, has both high individual and societal costs. So what can be done to mitigate 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 a lot 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 periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet spots to talk, and go with the less noisy areas of a restaurant.
- Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more relevant. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.