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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever experienced severe mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after finishing the SAT examination, or after concluding any examination or task that required rigorous attentiveness. 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 fatigue. Those with hearing loss pick up only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a nonstop 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 decipher what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout requiring serious concentration.

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

You most likely realized that the arbitrary array of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and think it over, filling in the blanks. Imagine having to read this entire article in this manner 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 socializing becomes strenuous, what’s the likely outcome? People will begin to avoid communication situations entirely.

That’s why we observe many people 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 mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being linked to.

The Societal Effects

Hearing loss is not exclusively fatiguing and frustrating 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 lowered work productivity.

Corroborating this claim, the Better Hearing Institute found that hearing loss adversely 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, then, has both high personal and societal costs. So what can be done to offset its effects? Here are some tips:

  • Wear Hearing aidshearing aids help to “fill in the blanks,” thus avoiding 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 periodic breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking periodic breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
  • Minimize background noise – adding background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and choose the quieter areas of a restaurant.
  • Read as an alternative to watching TV – this isn’t bad advice by itself, 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.
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