Concentration Fatigue

Concentration fatigue is experienced by many deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the deaf community. This simply means that we are using more of our cognitive resources when we are lip-reading, listening to others, and following conversations in sign language. Deaf and hard of hearing people must pay more attention and concentrate harder, in comparison to individuals who are hearing. In some cases, people with a hearing loss try to work out what someone has said, and ‘fill in the gaps’ on what they missed or did not hear. To explain this further, the inner ear has sensory hair cells, which have the vital role of receiving and translating sound into electrical signals. This is sent to the brain. For a person like myself, who is deaf, the brain must work harder because these cells have died or are damaged, which consequently can cause fatigue.

I often struggle with concentration fatigue and find it mentally and physically exhausting. When I miss out on parts of a sentence, I rely on watching lip patterns, alongside speech and sound, to attempt to figure out what the person has said to me. Deaf or hard of hearing individuals are often labelled as ‘rude’ or ‘lazy’, although, a reason for their lack of involvement or interaction, could simply be down to concentration fatigue, or communication barriers. Therefore, I feel that it is important to raise awareness of this and break down those misconceptions.

I first discovered concentration fatigue when I was at university. I noticed that I was missing out on information during my lectures. I was lucky to have a note taker, who I would describe as an absolute god send! I would read my notes the day after the lecture, and it felt like I was reading notes from a completely different lecture -with some familiar parts! I realised then, that my concentration and tiredness was linked with my profound deafness. At the end of my lectures, I would leave suffering from throbbing headaches, and often experienced migraines. I was often anxious that my hearing was deteriorating, when in fact, I just needed a well-deserved nap!

I now feel more informed of this and make adjustments to help preserve any energy I have. Currently due to the pandemic, my workplace has switched over to Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, for staff meetings. We ensure that we have 5-minute breaks, every 30 minutes, so myself and my deaf colleague can take a break to preserve our energy. I also experience, what is known as ‘Zoom Fatigue’, during my staff meetings. I multi-task and watch my communication support, the speaker, and read the captions, to ensure I do not miss out on anything. Again, I opted to have a notetaker for important meetings, so I had something to visually refer to.

Taking regular breaks and going for a quick walk to make a drink, or even stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, are all helpful for me. It is important to never assume we are being rude, or we are not getting a good night’s sleep. Concentrating takes up a great deal of our physical and mental energy. Allow us plenty of breaks, pause in between sentences when speaking or signing, perhaps even ask us what we prefer you to do. Not all deaf and hard of hearing people are the same. It is important to remember that.

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