Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced extreme mental exhaustion? Maybe you felt this way after finishing the SAT exam, or after concluding any test or task that called for rigorous attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.

An analogous experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a continuous 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 decipher what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural, comes to be a problem-solving exercise demanding serious concentration.

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

You probably realized that the arbitrary collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Picture having to read this entire article this way 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 laborious task, and socializing becomes fatiguing, what’s the likely result? People will begin to stay away from communication situations completely.

That’s 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 mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.

The Societal Consequence

Hearing loss is not just exhausting and frustrating for the individual: hearing loss has economic consequences as well.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimates that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is around $300,000 per person over the period of each person’s life. Together, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to diminished work productivity.

Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found 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 Reducing Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high personal and economic costs. So what can be done to minimize its effects? Here are some tips:

  • Wear Hearing aidshearing 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 exclusion of one or two.
  • Take occasional 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 chance, take a break from sound, find a quiet area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to understand. Try to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and find the quieter areas of a restaurant.
  • Read as an alternative to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more pertinent. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.
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