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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced substantial mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after finishing any test or activity that called for intense attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to crash.

An analogous experience develops 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 make sense out of. In terms of understanding 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 decode what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, turns into a problem-solving workout necessitating serious concentration.

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

You most likely worked out that the haphazard array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think about it, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article this way 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 social interaction becomes tiring, what’s the likely outcome? People will start to stay away from communication situations entirely.

That’s the reason why we observe many people with hearing loss come to be much less active than they used to be. This can lead to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected with.

The Societal Effects

Hearing loss is not just 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. Together, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to decreased work productivity.

Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively affected 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, therefore, has both high personal and societal 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 regular 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 routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a break from sound, retreat to a quiet area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Try to control background music, find quiet spots to talk, and find the quieter sections of a restaurant.
  • Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice on its own, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day inundated by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.