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How to Manage Listening Fatigue From Hearing Loss

May 19, 2016

Woman holding her hands up to her forehead exhausted

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

A comparable experience comes about in those with hearing loss, and it’s called listening or hearing fatigue. Those with hearing loss take in only limited or incomplete sounds, which they then have to make sense out of. With respect to understanding speech, it’s like playing a persistent 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 make sense of what’s being said. Speech comprehension, which is intended to be natural, comes to be a problem-solving workout requiring serious concentration.

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

You most likely worked out that the random assortment of letters above spells “Can you read this sentence?” But you also likely had to stop and contemplate it, 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 Effects of Listening Fatigue

If speech comprehension becomes a chore, and social interaction becomes exhausting, what’s the likely consequence? People will begin to abstain from communication situations entirely.

That’s the reason why we witness many people with hearing loss become much less active than they used to be. 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 with.

The Societal Effects

Hearing loss is not only fatiguing 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 period of each person’s life. Together, 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 found that hearing loss negatively impacted 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 Reducing 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 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 regular breaks from sound – If we try to run 10 miles all at once without a break, most of us will fail and stop trying. If we pace ourselves, taking regular breaks, we can cover 10 miles in a day relatively easily. When you have the chance, take a rest from sound, find a tranquil area, or meditate.
  • Reduce 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 understand. Attempt to limit background music, find quiet locations to talk, and select the quieter areas of a restaurant.
  • Read as an alternative to watching TV – this isn’t terrible 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.
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