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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever suffered extreme mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any test or task that called for rigorous concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to crash.

A similar experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a constant game of crosswords.

Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but in many cases they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is intended to be natural, turns into a problem-solving exercise necessitating serious concentration.

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

You probably worked out that the arbitrary collection of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Just imagine 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 Impact of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and social interaction becomes tiring, what’s the likely consequence? People will start to avoid communication situations entirely.

That’s exactly why we witness many individuals with hearing loss become much 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked with.

The Societal Effects

Hearing loss is not exclusively fatiguing and demoralizing 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 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 depleted work efficiency.

Supporting this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively impacted household income by an average of $12,000 annually. Furthermore, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect it had on income.

Tips for Minimizing Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue, therefore, has both high individual and societal costs. So what can be done to mitigate 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 a lot easier if all the letters are filled in with the exception of one or two.
  • Take routine 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 fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, retreat to a tranquil 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 difficult to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet places 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.