Do you find yourself low on energy, exhausted after a day of busy interactions, whether at a social or work setting? Hearing loss may be to blame! Hearing loss and fatigue may seem unrelated, but in reality, they are much more connected than you realize. Fatigue is defined as “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion.” Mental fatigue results from effortful listening and is often an unfortunate side effect of hearing loss. Let me explain.
C n ou re d his s t ce eff tl sly?
Could you read that sentence effortlessly? (It reads, “Can you read this sentence effortlessly?”) Now, multiply that one sentence by everyone you hear all day long. Imagine you had to put that effort into filling in the blanks for every conversation. As you worked to fill in those blanks, you gain an understanding of the listening demands placed on someone with a hearing loss to do the same in conversation!
Cognitive load may be causing your fatigue
This effort to process and make sense of the auditory bits and pieces you hear is an example of “cognitive load.” With cognitive load, the brain is preoccupied with filling in the blanks, leaving little energy to store and process what has been heard into working memory. The additional effort your brain spends making sense of speech, particularly when background noise is present, puts additional stress and anxiety on the listener. Stress or anxiety often result in a rush of adrenaline and muscle tension which can add to that sensation of being “drained” or physically tired at the end of the day.
These implications are important for anyone with a hearing loss, but particularly for those with hearing loss — in their personal lives or the workforce. It makes sense that if you don’t have to spend so much effort filling in those auditory blanks, there would be more cognitive energy left to listen and understand more effortlessly!
You can reduce cognitive load
It’s a busy, noisy world, and fatigue associated to listening effort can be an unfortunate side effect. Yet hearing loss doesn’t have to get in the way. Here are some ways to limit the impact of hearing loss and the associated mental fatigue that may accompany it.
1. Give yourself a break — When you find yourself straining from listening in a social or work environment, take a short break to relax and let your mind rest from the rigors of listening. Stepping away, tuning out with noise cancelling headphones to reduce overstimulation, and even a short nap are all methods to de-stress and invigorate alertness. Turn your ears off and take a break from the audio action whenever possible.
2. Meditate — Meditation and locating that calm inside can quiet the stress of effortful listening associated with hearing loss. Meditation is becoming a popular tool for mental and physical wellness. It’s free, can be practiced anywhere, and even a short 5-minute meditation has demonstrated benefit.
3. Record and transcribe — For those with hearing loss, listening-intensive endeavors like meetings and course work can cause stress from the fear of missing important details. There are technologies designed to record or stream such interactions, including many smartphone apps. These apps can stream directly to hearing aids, or transcribe dictation via voice recognition technology such as technology found at www.speechtexter.com.
4. Work smarter, not harder — Speaking of hearing aids, they’re a terrific solution. Work with a hearing professional to take advantage of their expertise and find the best hearing aid or assistive technology for your needs and lifestyle. Struggling through the workday and leaving yourself no energy to enjoy life is working harder not smarter. Hearing aid and assistive technology is available to greatly enhance your life and reduce the strain that listening and concentrating brings to the hearing impaired. Much of today’s hearing aid technology uses digital processing designed to recognize and suppress noise in the environment which can lead to less effortful listening.
You’re already working harder than your normal hearing colleagues and friends to pay attention and be the best listener you can be. So give yourself a break! Make it easier on yourself by investing in a solution to reduce listening effort and you will be richly rewarded. Whether it’s hearing aids, assistive listening technology or strategies to take a break and de-stress, the benefits can greatly enhance your life experience.
By Michelle Hurley, Au.D. on Jan 17, 2017