Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever suffered intensive mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after completing any test or activity that called for deep attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to crash.

An analogous experience arises in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a persistent 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. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural, comes to be a problem-solving exercise demanding deep concentration.

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

You probably worked out that the arbitrary assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably 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 Effects of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and social interaction becomes draining, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to stay away from communication situations entirely.

That’s the reason why we see many people with hearing loss come to be much less active than they used to be. This can lead to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being associated with.

The Societal Consequence

Hearing loss is not only 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 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 decreased work efficiency.

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, then, has both high individual and societal 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 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 rest, most of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the chance, take a rest from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and pick the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
  • Read as a substitute to 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.
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