Hearing loss and fatigue are two common issues that can affect middle-aged and older adults, and there is evidence to suggest that they may be interconnected in various ways. However, the exact mechanisms underlying the relationship between hearing loss and fatigue are still being studied.
Here are some potential ways in which they may be tied together:
Cognitive Load: Hearing loss can increase the cognitive load on individuals, especially in situations with background noise. When someone struggles to hear, they must expend more mental effort to process and understand spoken information. This increased cognitive load can lead to mental or listening fatigue, which can manifest as general tiredness or reduced alertness.
Social Isolation: Hearing loss can not only lead to social isolation, but physical isolation and a feeling of being emotionally disconnected from others through the decrease in social interactions. Older adults with hearing difficulties may avoid social gatherings, conversations, and events, which can result in feelings of loneliness and depression. Social isolation and the associated emotional stress can contribute to overall fatigue.
Sleep Disturbances: Hearing loss can disrupt sleep patterns. Individuals with hearing difficulties may be more sensitive to noises during the night or may use loud alarms to wake up, which can interfere with sleep quality. And vice versa, unhealthy sleep patterns can potentially lead to hearing damage. Sleep conditions like insomnia can lead to poor blood circulation, which can lead to a form of hearing loss. In addition, poor sleep can lead to daytime fatigue and decreased cognitive function.
Stress and Anxiety: Coping with hearing loss can be emotionally taxing. It may lead to increased stress and anxiety, which can contribute to feelings of fatigue. No matter the degree of anxiety you feel, exhaustion will kick in. Constantly straining to hear or worrying about missing important information can be so mentally draining that fatigue is guaranteed.
Reduced Physical Activity: Hearing loss can also affect physical health. Some individuals with hearing difficulties may become less physically active. A study conducted with 11,292 participants over the age of 50, at the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, showed an association between reduced physical activity and hearing loss in middle-aged and older-aged adults. Less physical activity can contribute to a decline in overall energy levels and an increased sense of fatigue.
Communication Challenges: Hearing loss can result in miscommunications and misunderstandings in various settings, including work, home, and social interactions. These challenges can be frustrating and mentally exhausting, leading to communication fatigue. When communication fatigue occurs, the individual no longer engages in communication.
Health Comorbidities: There is evidence to suggest that hearing loss may be associated with certain health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which can independently contribute to fatigue through the associated stress, worry, and anxiety that accompany health issues.
It’s important to note that the relationship between hearing loss and fatigue can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of hearing loss, individual coping strategies, and overall health. Addressing hearing loss through interventions such as hearing aids, assistive devices, and communication strategies can help mitigate some of the fatigue-related effects. Additionally, managing overall health, including addressing any coexisting medical conditions, can play a significant role in reducing fatigue in middle-aged and older adults with hearing loss. Consulting with a healthcare professional, such as an audiologist or primary care physician, is recommended for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized recommendations.