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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced severe mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT exam, or after concluding any examination or task that required intensive attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.

A similar experience develops 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 make sense out of. In terms of understanding 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 oftentimes they then have to fill in the blanks to make sense of what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, turns into a problem-solving workout demanding serious concentration.

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

You most likely realized that the random assortment 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 Effects of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and socializing becomes exhausting, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to abstain from communication situations entirely.

That’s the reason why we see many individuals with hearing loss become a lot less active than they had previously been. This can bring about social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.

The Societal Effects

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) 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. Together, 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 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 reduce 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 much easier if all the letters are filled in with the exception of one or two.
  • Take periodic breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, the majority of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the chance, take a rest from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
  • Minimize background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Try to limit background music, find quiet spots to talk, and find the quieter sections of a restaurant.
  • Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more relevant. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.