Hearing Loss and Listening Fatigue: Part 1

I have friends who get up at 5 a.m., go to the gym, work eight hours, and party until midnight; they can repeat this for days on end without getting exhausted. I’m exhausted after a single day of work or a three-hour meeting with five people and lots of conversation. Unlike my friends, I have hearing loss. And unlike my friends, I get listening fatigue.

Hearing loss is more than difficultly understanding speech and hearing sound. It also makes you extremely tired; listening takes a lot of effort and energy. People with normal hearing don’t really think about the fact that listening can be fatiguing and frustrating. The Better Hearing Institute estimates that societal costs of untreated hearing loss result in $56 billion wasted per year in the United States and 92 billion euros in Europe. This high cost was said to mainly be due to lost productivity at work, much of which is due to fatigue caused by coping with hearing loss.  

A survey by the Danish Institute for Social Research found that as many as one in five people suffering from hearing loss give up on the job market, and for those who do work, almost 15 percent are so fatigued by the end of the day they have no energy left for leisurely pursuits.

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research at the National Deaf Children’s Society in the United Kingdom, paints an accurate picture of what listening fatigue is like in his blog: concentration fatigue.

"It’s about the energy involved in lip-reading and being attentive all day long. Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question. It’s like doing jigsaws,  Sudoku and Scrabble all at the same time."

A loss of energy due to hearing loss makes it difficult to perform at work or be active at home. A one or two hour meeting can make you feel tired, sleepy and physically exhausted. As your energy expenditure is used throughout the day for listening, your ability to perform other tasks or activities is impaired. Even if I only have one or two meetings and can work at my computer for most of the day, I still go home tired because my ears are still straining to interpret the sounds and voices going on around me. Your ears never stop working, they never stop listening, and as a result, when 5 o’clock rolls around, instead of being revved up to go walk my dog or hit the gym, I want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and pass out. 

Why does listening make you tired?

Three areas of our brain connect with the auditory system to help interpret sound and produce speech:

  1. Broca’s Area: speech production
  2. Wernicke’s Area: speech comprehension
  3. Temporal Lobe: manages hearing

For the listener with normal hearing these areas of the brain function as the perfect team, allowing communication to seem effortless. But, with the addition of hearing loss, the brain has to work, think and concentrate harder than it would with normal hearing and this teamwork is disrupted, increasing the challenges of communication and leading to listening fatigue.

How hearing aids reduce listening fatigue

Hearing aids help us reduce the amount of energy we spend listening and communicating by making it easier to hear sounds and speech in a variety of environments. Because the hearing aid helps to restore the sounds that are missed with hearing loss, the brain uses less energy understanding it.

Modern day hearing aids now come with features that help reduce listening fatigue by isolating and amplifying the sounds you want to hear and significantly reducing or removing the noises you don’t. Acuity Directionality and Voice iQ are features offered in Starkey's Z Series products that have been designed to ease the challenges of listening in difficult situations, including when the speech occurs from behind the listener. 

What about on the phone?

Often our telephone conversations can be some of the most energetically taxing experiences. When we are talking or listening in person, lip reading can make understanding speech faster, but when talking on the phone if a voice is not clear or is mixed with background noise, the conversation can be difficult and tiring. 

Halo, the first Made for iPhone hearing aid, provides an exciting opportunity to effortlessly stream calls directly to the hearing aids for clear, crisp speech. Halo features many of same benefits provided by Z Series but brings in the unique utility of the TruLink mobile application. By connecting to an iPhone, I never worry about losing my hearing aids and I have customized listening memories that trigger automatically when I walk into a coffee shop or restaurant.

Help reduce listening fatigue by relaxing

Hearing aids aren’t perfect and can only lessen listening fatigue. Nothing will completely remove it, so here are some helpful tips to keep your energy levels up throughout the day.

  • Give yourself a break during the day when you can turn off your hearing aids and take a 5-10 minute.
  • When you feel yourself becoming stressed or tired, take two minutes to close your eyes, take deep breaths and sit quietly.
  • Limit or eliminate interruptions and background noises that can make hearing hard even with your hearing aids (ex. put your phone on silent, ask others to turn down their music or remove yourself from an area where there is a lot of conversation).
  • Eat lunch outside and away from the busy cafeteria or lunchroom areas. It’s ok to take time for yourself.
  • Try reading instead of watching TV and give your ears a break from having to work to listen at all. 
  • Take a power nap. 

Have some tips for battling listening fatigue? Share them with us here by commenting on our blog below.


By Starkey Hearing