Have you ever experienced intense mental exhaustion? Perhaps you felt this way after completing the SAT examination, or after concluding any test or task that called for rigorous concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re done, you just want to collapse.

A similar experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s known as listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to decode. With respect to comprehending speech, it’s like playing a persistent game of crosswords.

Those with hearing loss are presented with context and a few sounds and letters, but in many cases they then have to fill in the blanks to decipher what’s being said. Language comprehension, which is supposed to be natural, ends up being a problem-solving exercise demanding deep concentration.

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

You probably figured out that the arbitrary assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also probably had to stop and think it over, 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 strenuous, what’s the likely outcome? People will start to stay away from communication situations entirely.

That’s the reason why we observe many individuals with hearing loss come to be a lot 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 cognitive decline that hearing loss is increasingly being connected to.

The Societal Effects

Hearing loss is not only exhausting 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 approximately $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 lowered work efficiency.

Supporting this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute found 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 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 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 exception 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 fairly easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, find a peaceful area, or meditate.

  • Minimize background noise – introducing background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it difficult to comprehend. Attempt to control background music, find quiet areas to talk, and opt for the less noisy sections of a restaurant.

  • Read as a substitute to watching TV – this isn’t terrible advice by itself, but for those with hearing loss, it’s even more pertinent. After spending a day bombarded by sound, give your ears a break and read a book.