Have you ever suffered extreme mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after concluding any examination or activity that called for deep attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.
An analogous experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a nonstop game of crosswords.
Those with hearing loss are presented with context and a few sounds and letters, but oftentimes they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, comes to be a problem-solving workout necessitating serious concentration.
For instance: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?
You probably realized that the random collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article in this manner 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 social interaction becomes exhausting, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to stay away from communication situations entirely.
That’s precisely why we observe many people with hearing loss come to be 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected with.
The Societal Consequence
Hearing loss is not only fatiguing 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 approximately $300,000 per person over the span 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.
Providing support to this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Furthermore, 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 offset 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 rest from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.
- Limit background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and find the less noisy areas 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 bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.