"Bells are ringing, children are singing, the paper is loud and crinkling, dishes and silverware are rattling, people are chattering — oh the season of sounds are in abundance," Mary said. "Sometimes I just would like a few moments of silence or quiet. You know peace from all the noise. I get so tired of listening and hearing the noises. Is there something wrong with that?"
"Not at all," I said to her. "It is actually called listening or hearing fatigue."
I have been told by patients that they prefer to wear their glasses to hear me better thus getting the visual cues to help facilitate speech understanding. Sometimes the fatigue effects of listening to speech through speech reading and managing the information cognitively can be a challenge.
Fatigue can be caused by a combination of physical, mental and emotional factors. Although it is usually temporary, it has the same resulting effects, which leaves one feeling in a negative way. Severe fatigue may result in less productivity, be more prone to accidents, reduced speed, reduced ability to concentrate and attention to tasks and impair decision-making abilities thus increasing stress levels and reduced communication.
The use of hearing aids may reduce the fatigue levels in the hearing-impaired individual. Due to the reduction in straining to hear the sounds and speakers, these individuals may increase attention and cognitive (mental) abilities. They also improve listening effort and thus improve mood.
Hearing loss is difficult as it takes energy and effort to listen, not just hear, speech and sound. Most individuals do not realize the fact that listening can be frustrating and fatiguing for someone who cannot auditory receive the complete message.
It is estimated that the cost to society per year due to untreated hearing loss is $56 billion in the United States. This high cost was mainly due to the loss of production at work or fatigue caused by trying to cope with the untreated hearing loss. Misunderstandings and being exhausted from trying to listen intently costs everyone mentally, physically, emotionally and financially.
Regions or areas of the brain which assist with listening and understanding speech do so effortlessly with the 'normal hearing' listener. However, when you have a contributing hearing loss, the brain function has to think, work, process, attend and concentrate more diligently than for the normal listener. When this occurs, it interferes with communication and leads to hearing and listening fatigue.
Technology in hearing aids aim to assist the wearer in the reduction of fatigue, thus reducing the amount of energy spent on listening and attention skills needed to increase and improve communication. Hearing aids are far from perfect and can only lessen hearing and listening fatigue.
There are also studies which suggest the use of hearing aids increase vigor or have no relationship between the degree of hearing loss and subjective ratings of fatigue or vigor.
I suggest you give yourself breaks from listening throughout the day. When feelings of stress, anxiousness or fatigue begin to arise, sit quietly and close your eyes for a few moments. Remember to breathe. Eliminate as much background noise as possible. Try reading instead of listening; or if you are able to, take a short nap. In the end the amount of additional stress is not worth the fatigue it is caused by.
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Patricia Larson Shields, AuD FAAA MA CCC-SP/L is a doctor of audiology with her degree from The School of Audiology of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in February, 2003. She has been in business in Mitchell, SD since September, 1991.