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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever suffered extreme mental fatigue? Maybe you felt this way after completing the SAT exam, or after concluding any test or task that mandated intense attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.

An analogous experience arises in those with hearing loss, and it’s referred to as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decipher. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a continual game of crosswords.

Those with hearing loss are provided with context and a few sounds and letters, but oftentimes they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout requiring deep concentration.

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

You most likely worked out 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 Impact of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a laborious task, and socializing becomes draining, what’s the likely result? People will begin to abstain from communication situations entirely.

That’s exactly the reason we see many people with hearing loss become a lot less active than they had previously been. 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 Impact

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) reports 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. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, most of the cost is attributable to depleted work efficiency.

Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss negatively affected household income by an average of $12,000 annually. And, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect 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 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 routine 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 routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, retreat to a peaceful area, or meditate.
  • Reduce background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it hard to comprehend. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and opt for the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
  • Read in the place of watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly relevant. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.