Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced intensive mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after finishing any test or activity that mandated intense attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.

A comparable experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. 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 more often than not they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is intended to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout requiring serious concentration.

For example: C n ou r ad t is s nt e ce?

You most likely realized that the haphazard assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. 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 chore, and socializing becomes exhausting, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to avoid communication situations entirely.

That’s precisely why we witness many people with hearing loss come to be a lot less active than they had previously been. This can contribute 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 Consequence

Hearing loss is not exclusively fatiguing and demoralizing 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 around $300,000 per person over the course 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.

Supporting this claim, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely 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 Minimizing Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue, then, has both high individual and economic 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 preventing 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 exclusion 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 regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the opportunity, take a break from sound, retreat to a tranquil area, or meditate.
  • Reduce background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Attempt to control background music, find quiet spots to talk, and find the quieter sections of a restaurant.
  • Read as an alternative to watching TV – this isn’t bad 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 rest and read a book.
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