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Hearing and Vision Q1 2022

Why am I so tired of listening?

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Gabrielle H Saunders

Trustee and Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Laura Gaeta

Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Rebecca E. Millman

Chair, Cognition in Hearing Special Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Crystal Rolfe

Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology

Have you noticed just how much more effort it takes to have a conversation with someone who is wearing a face mask? This isn’t just because the mask muffles sound, it’s because it hides expressions and lip movements, which we all use to help us ‘hear’.


For someone with hearing loss, listening is always hard work, but it’s especially hard in some situations – like with masks, when it’s noisy, or when the listener is tired. This is because a lot of listening takes place in the brain.

Decoding what we hear

Although our ears pick up sound, it is our brain that makes sense of it. With hearing loss, the sound sent to the brain is unclear, so it takes more brain power to ‘decode’ the content. Of course, we all have to put effort into listening, but someone with hearing loss needs to use much more effort to listen and understand the same spoken information.

The constant stress of listening is not good for our health, but then nor is avoiding effortful listening entirely. It has been suggested that both of these might contribute to long-term changes in the brain and dementia.

Hearing is important so make it work for you.

Tips on communications

But it’s not all bad news. You can make listening easier for yourself. Hearing aids certainly help, but so do these simple communication tips:

  • Always sit facing the person you are talking to. Make sure you can see their face clearly and that they aren’t for example sitting in front of a window.
  • Always make it clear what would help you. It is easiest when someone speaks slowly and uses gestures. Having them rephrase rather than just repeat something missed helps too. 
  • At home, try to reduce background noise. Turn off the TV or radio if you aren’t listening to it. Close the window – you’d be surprised how much noise comes in from outside.
  • When out and about, avoid noisy places. In a restaurant, ask to sit at a table in a corner rather than in the middle of the room. Try to sit with your back towards a wall. Avoid sitting under a loudspeaker or air conditioner.

If you think you might have hearing loss, contact your doctor or an audiologist. You could also do a quick screening test on your phone or computer, there are a number of resources online that can help. Some examples include the WHO, RNID and NIDCD.

Hearing is important so make it work for you.

Gabrielle H Saunders, Trustee and Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology; Manager, Hearing Device Research Centre, NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, Manchester, UK; Senior Research Fellow, Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness, The University of Manchester Manchester, UK 

Laura Gaeta, Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology; Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, California State University, Sacramento, USA 

Rebecca E. Millman, Chair, Cognition in Hearing Special Interest Group, British Society of Audiology; Lecturer, Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness, The University of Manchester; Biomarker Platform Lead and Early Career Researcher, NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, Manchester, UK  

Crystal Rolfe, Member, Adult Rehabilitation Interest Group, British Society of Audiology; Associate director of Strategy- Health at RNID 

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