I don’t like noise. It’s not so much the noise itself, but what it does to me – and what I have to do to counteract its toxic effects.
For many people, noise exposure can cause a stress reaction. Others have noise sensitivity. For the person with hearing loss (aka ME), the noise of public spaces, large gatherings or even quieter background sounds, present a challenge.
- Noise interferes with what I want to hear.
- Noise sparks my reactive tinnitus, delivering double the noise that a person without tinnitus might experience.
- Noise contributes to listener fatigue which contributes to mental fatigue.
Last week, Shari Eberts and I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, along with 115,000 other people whom, I swear, were all talking at once. And it was no better back at our hotel because – it’s Vegas! The casinos are loud, the restaurants are loud and the people are loud. Having to speak more loudly to be understood took a toll on my voice. In addition, Shari and I had been invited to Vegas by GN ReSound to participate in think-tank discussions that required creativity and energy. By the end of each day, we both had cognitive overload and sore feet.
How is listener fatigue different to mental fatigue and cognitive overload?
Listener fatigue (also known as listening fatigue or ear fatigue) is a phenomenon that occurs after prolonged exposure to an auditory stimulus. Symptoms include tiredness, discomfort, pain, and loss of sensitivity. Listener fatigue is not a clinically recognized state, but is a term used by many professionals. (Wikipedia)
Yup, I definitely had that. Sound and speech all day long. Captioning helped in the meetings, lightening the load of listening so hard to understand what was being said. Then it was on to the conference floor, where many of the 3200+ exhibitors wore masks. Shari had to communicate for me (with grace and patience) on several occasions, because she hears better than me.
Which brings me to cognitive overload, which occurs when trying to process too much information at once. We spent hours exploring the new and wonderful tech devices, many of which were app-base, with the potential to make our lives better. Captioning glasses and captioned devices worn on the chest, over the counter (OTC) hearing devices, apps to track your physical and mental health, little robots who will take care of you, and – get this – running shoes that you don’t have to bend over to slip into. Sensory and information overload!
The third condition is mental fatigue, the state of overall low brain energy which I used to call brain-fried. This was me, arriving home after three flights (will I make my connection?!) and three days of heavy communication, Vegas and sore feet.
There are ways to prepare for noisy events, and ways to recuperate. If I was a hearing person attending an event like CES, I would wear earplugs. But earplugs don’t work for me, with one cochlear implant and one hearing aid. I could only mentally prepare by acknowledging that the effects would be temporary. We tried to take breaks from the noise and to use communication strategies such as speech to text. My mini-mic would have been wonderful if I’d remembered to bring it (so much for good preparation).
Recuperation took place in my hotel room. It was a paradise, an oasis of quiet calm. No sound. Deep breathing. A few minutes of meditation and yoga stretches. A hot shower. Watching Netflix on my tablet with captions but no sound. These simple strategies calmed my ears and my brain while I was still awake. Then I slept.
Too much noise zaps your energy, causes stress and can lead to hearing loss. When you can’t avoid the noise, brace yourself mentally, use assistive technology and then engage in a post-noise detoxification.
And don’t forget to have fun!