Have you ever experienced severe mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after concluding any test or activity that mandated intensive concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.
A similar experience arises in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a never-ending 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. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, comes to be a problem-solving exercise demanding serious concentration.
For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You most likely realized that the arbitrary assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Just imagine 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 laborious task, and social interaction becomes fatiguing, what’s the likely result? People will begin to avoid communication situations entirely.
That’s precisely why we see many people with hearing loss come to be a lot 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.
The Societal Effects
Hearing loss is not just fatiguing and demoralizing 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. Together, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to depleted work productivity.
Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Additionally, 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 personal and societal 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 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 regular breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, the majority of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, find a quiet area, or meditate.
- Reduce background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Try to control background music, find quiet locations to talk, and go for the quieter areas of a restaurant.
- Read in place of 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 inundated by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.