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 exam, or after finishing any examination or task that required deep attentiveness. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.

An analogous experience happens in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening fatigue. Those with hearing loss receive only limited 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 frequently they then have to fill in the blanks to decode what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving workout demanding serious concentration.

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

You probably figured out that the haphazard 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. Picture 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 Effects of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes strenuous, what’s the likely result? People will begin to pass up communication situations entirely.

That’s exactly why we see many people with hearing loss become much 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 mental decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.

The Societal Consequence

Hearing loss is not only fatiguing 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 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 diminished work productivity.

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 Minimizing 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 a lot 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, the majority of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the occasion, take a rest from sound, find a quiet area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partly complete crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to comprehend. Attempt to control background music, find quiet locations to talk, and opt for the less noisy sections of a restaurant.
  • Read in place of watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s doubly pertinent. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.