Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

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

A comparable experience occurs in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. In terms of 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 oftentimes they then have to fill in the blanks to decipher what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural and effortless, turns into a problem-solving workout demanding deep concentration.

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

You most likely figured out that the random 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. Picture 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 stay away from communication situations completely.

That’s exactly why we observe many individuals with hearing loss come to be a lot less active than they had previously been. This can contribute to social isolation, lack of sound stimulation to the brain, and to the higher rates of cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being associated with.

The Societal Impact

Hearing loss is not exclusively exhausting 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 course of each person’s life. Collectively, this amounts to billions of dollars, and according to the NCBI, the majority of the cost is attributable to depleted work efficiency.

Corroborating this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely affected household income by an average of $12,000 per year. Additionally, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the effect it had on income.

Tips for Minimizing Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue, then, has both high personal and economic costs. So what can be done to mitigate 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 regular 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 peaceful area, or meditate.
  • Minimize background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to comprehend. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and pick the less noisy sections 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 flooded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.