Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced extreme mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that called for serious attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.

A comparable experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of understanding speech, it’s like playing a nonstop 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 decipher what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural and effortless, ends up being a problem-solving exercise requiring serious concentration.

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

You most likely figured out that the arbitrary array 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 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 tiring, what’s the likely result? People will start to pass up communication situations entirely.

That’s exactly why we see many people with hearing loss come to be a lot less active than they had previously been. 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 associated with.

The Societal Consequence

Hearing loss is not just 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 approximately $300,000 per person over the course 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.

Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. And, 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 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 occasional breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, retreat to a calm area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet areas to talk, and pick the quieter areas of a restaurant.
  • Read instead of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more pertinent. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.
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