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Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

Have you ever suffered severe mental fatigue? Perhaps you felt this way after completing the SAT exam, or after finishing any test or activity that required serious concentration. It’s like running a marathon in your head—and when you’re finished, you just want to collapse.

A similar experience develops in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only partial or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. In terms of comprehending speech, it’s like playing a nonstop game of crosswords.

Those with hearing loss are presented 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, becomes a problem-solving exercise necessitating 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 probably 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 appreciation for the listening demands placed on those with hearing loss.

The Personal Effects of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and socializing becomes tiring, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to avert communication situations entirely.

That’s exactly why we witness many individuals with hearing loss become a lot less active than they used to be. 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 linked to.

The Societal Consequence

Hearing loss is not just exhausting and demoralizing for the individual: hearing loss has economic repercussions as well.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) estimates that the societal cost of severe to profound hearing loss in the US is approximately $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.

Supporting this assertion, the Better Hearing Institute discovered that hearing loss adversely 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, then, has both high personal and economic costs. So what can be done to alleviate 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 a lot 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 rest, the majority of us will fail and give up. If we pace ourselves, taking routine breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day fairly easily. When you have the chance, take a break from sound, retreat to a quiet area, or meditate.
  • Limit background noise – bringing in background noise is like erasing the letters in a partially completed crossword puzzle. It drowns out speech, making it tough to understand. Make an effort to limit background music, find quiet places to talk, and select the less noisy 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 doubly pertinent. After spending a day flooded by sound, give your ears a rest and read a book.
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