Auditory Fatigue: Why It’s So Hard to Listen

Have you ever found yourself listening to someone who was hard to understand? Perhaps they had a strong accent, or there was a lot of background noise, or they just talked wayyy too fast. How enjoyable was that conversation? After the conversation, did you feel a little tired, or brain-dead? This is what many deaf and hard of hearing people experience all the time due to something called auditory fatigue.

This is also known as listener fatigue, cognitive energy fatigue, and concentration fatigue. This happens because listening and communication require energy for all of the steps required to maintain a conversation. You have to understand what is being said, process it, think of a response, and repeat that again and again. When you have full hearing this is just a normal activity.  

But when you have hearing loss, this becomes a lot more difficult. They must use lip-reading, along with other cues and strategies to make up for the missed sounds. When you add in background noise this becomes even worse. This is much more difficult than the passive listening that a hearing person can do. By the end of a day full of communication, it can leave a person completely exhausted.

Ian Noon, in a post for the deaf blog The Limping Chicken described it this way:

“Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question.

It’s like doing jigsaws, Suduku and Scrabble all at the same time.”

In my own life, I’ve seen it when my parents will dread going to social events that have mostly hearing people. This is because that means they’re in for hours and hours of exerting all that extra effort. They lip-read, and combine that with the bits and pieces of conversation they can pick up. By the end of the day, they’re exhausted.

One of our goals is to be able to decrease the amount of auditory fatigue. The sound localization in our product would be able to direct the user in the direction of the person speaking. Any visuals such as lipreading would be used quicker without having to continuously try to find who is speaking. Adding in captioning associated with the location of sounds can help to decipher just what is being said. This would take some of the burden of communication off the listener, giving them another way to see what is being said.

We’d like to know your stories too! Where does auditory fatigue come into your life? Leave a comment with your experiences, sharing your experience and maybe some methods of alleviating can not only encourage others but help others.