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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced intense mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after completing any test or task that called for intense concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to crash.

An analogous experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a continual 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 decipher what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, turns into a problem-solving workout demanding deep concentration.

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

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

If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes exhausting, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to stay away from communication situations completely.

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 contribute to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked with.

The Societal Impact

Hearing loss is not only exhausting and frustrating 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 lowered work efficiency.

Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss adversely impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Additionally, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the impact it had on income.

Tips for Reducing 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 avoiding 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 break, 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 occasion, take a break from sound, find a quiet area, or meditate.
  • Reduce background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and go with the quieter sections of a restaurant.
  • Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t bad advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.