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  • Writer's picturePat Dobbs

Travels with Hearing Loss: Auditory Exhaustion

By the time you read this, I’ll be back home from an epic road trip I took driving from Anchorage, AK to Madison, NJ with Cobb, the wonder dog! A trip like that is always filled with experiences and adventures and believe me, I had my fair share of them. What I didn’t anticipate was learning something about my hearing that I knew intuitively but not consciously.

Let me share…

Every day I drove at least six hours and at night I either camped out or if I was lucky, friends who live along my route offered me their home (nice warm shower and a comfortable bed to sleep in – heaven!).

One night I was particularly tired and so was happy I was invited to stay with a friend. I was exhausted, hungry and had no excess energy to do anything on or above enjoying my friend and the delicious meal that he prepared for me.

But I struggled to understand what he was saying. Even though he has a hearing loss himself and presumably knows better, he talked to me from another room or if he was in the same room with me, he often looked away from me when he talked. He has a soft voice and a very strong regional accent to boot. In other words, he has all the ingredients for a difficult hearing environment.

I told him that I was having a hard time understanding him and why. But I guess I didn’t make myself clear. Or what I realized afterwards is I didn’t have the energy to make myself clear.

At that point I had a few choices. I could either:

1) Muster up the energy to ask him to speak to me so I could understand him

2) Muster up the energy to lip read and fill in the words I didn’t understand

3) Pretend that I understood what he was saying (faking it)

4) Excuse myself for the night.

I chose the last option although I really hated this choice. I was enjoying our conversation and wanted to continue if I could have understood him without straining so.

Weeks later I read blog by Chelle Wyatt on Auditory Fatigue and realized that was my problem – I was too tired to advocate for myself or understand what he was saying.

Hearing for the hard of hearing (HOH) involves so much more than just hearing. It involves lip and body reading, and filling in the words that we haven’t heard as best we can. This takes way more energy to hear than a person with normal hearing. So if I’m not rested, understanding what people are saying is very challenging.

My withdrawing for the evening made me realize that auditory fatigue often is the reason why HOH withdraw from society and inaccurately makes them seem like introverts and shy, quiet and maybe even sensitive. But this withdrawal is not necessarily because we’re introverts. We just don’t have the energy to go through all that is necessary for us to hear.

So what’s the moral of the story – acknowledge to yourself that hearing for the HOH takes a lot of energy so get enough sleep!


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