Cognitive Overload and Hearing Loss Explained

Communication in our everyday life frequently includes situations with more than one person speaking at a time. These situations require greater levels of concentration, putting additional strain on your brain. This stress can be exacerbated if you have a hearing impairment.

This additional strain can leave you feeling fatigued. You may experience more symptoms of fatigue after social events or a particularly noisy environment. While most of us are aware of physical fatigue, we’re often less familiar with fatigue caused by cognitive overload.

Cognitive Overload and Hearing Loss

Researchers from the Department of Hearing and Speech Science, conducted at Vanderbilt University, analyzed 149 adults who were being treated for hearing difficulties. The mean age of participants was 66 years old, and 59% of the participants were male.

The study reviewed the medical records and measurement of “subjective fatigue and vigor using the profile of mood states (POMS) method and the multidimensional fatigue symptom inventory-short form (MFSI-SF). The degree of hearing loss varied widely in the sample population.” (Source)

The study’s findings showed that participants who were seeking help for a hearing impairment were more likely to “report low energy (vigor) and to a lesser extent increased fatigue, compared to the general population.” Furthermore, the researchers identified that the degree of hearing loss was unrelated to the levels of fatigue reported.

Why Does Hearing Loss Cause Cognitive Overload?

Concentration takes a toll on our brains. The added pressure of a hearing impairment will often cause us to have to concentrate that much harder to catch conversations. This can be very tiring for your brain, and can result in cognitive overload.

The added strain of trying to hear leaves less energy for memory functions and other cognitive tasks. This can cause an increase in stress levels or feelings of worry, impact your performance, and leave you feeling very drained.

Unfortunately, because this additional cognitive load can be overwhelming, many will choose to withdraw socially. This social isolation can increase the risks of depression and a decline in daily activities.

Can Hearing Aids Help?

A study carried out by Johns Hopkins documented how cognitive decline can be intensified by 30-40% due to untreated hearing loss. Fortunately, studies looking at the impact of hearing aids on brain function are showing encouraging results.

It may be possible to improve cognitive function by treating your hearing loss with hearing aids. One study looked at subjects aged 50+ who had untreated bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Their processing speed, working memory and selective attention were tested at the start and end of the study. Results showed that after using hearing aids for 8 hours every day over a 6 month period, there were significant improvements in every test.

These studies provide just one more reason to stay on top of your regular hearing assessments. If you are due for a hearing assessment, why not get in touch with the hearing care professionals at HearingLife (formerly Family Audiology)? Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of certified hearing care professionals.

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