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Tinnitus interferes with mental tasks

People who suffer from chronic, moderate tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) may have more trouble performing demanding cognitive tasks.

Tinnitus interferes with mental tasks

People who suffer from chronic, moderate tinnitus (or ringing in the ears) may have more trouble performing demanding cognitive tasks than individuals without tinnitus. To understand the effects of tinnitus, researchers from the University of Western Sydney in South Penrith, Australia, recruited 19 patients with chronic tinnitus and 19 controls matched according to age, education, occupation, and verbal IQ. Subjects first underwent a Reading Span Test, in which 100 sentences were read in five sets of two sentences up to five sets of six sentences. Respondents were asked to recall the final words of all sentences in the set in the correct order. The reading span was calculated as the number recalled correctly on three out of the five sets. The mean reading span of the tinnitus group was 3.00, compared with 3.61 for the control group. It thus appeared that some individuals with tinnitus have difficulties concentrating on the task and/or reduced capacity to store and retrieve information from working memory. The second experiment involved a dual task divided-attention test involving visual stimuli. Subjects were to click a mouse button when a small rectangle appeared on a computer screen. In addition, a word appeared every 1.5 seconds, and subjects were to name the word. They then were asked to name the subordinate category (cooking, animal, or seascape) to which the word belonged. The groups were similar in the reaction time and in the word-naming task, but subjects with tinnitus scored more poorly in the category-naming condition. The only difference in the performance of the two groups was on the most demanding conditions of two laboratory tasks, and these conditions were unfamiliar and challenging. There are a number of factors that might be responsible for the above findings. One possibility is that there is a loss of sleep among people with chronic tinnitus and that the difference in performance is not the direct result of tinnitus but rather sleep-loss. Other variables that are sometimes associated with tinnitus are anxiety, depression, and hearing loss, which can impact cognition. There was no difference on familiar, over-learned conditions but a slight difference on novel tasks that required controlled, strategic processing. Practical strategies that are effective in managing tinnitus include getting involved in an absorbing activity such as work or a hobby, and making time to relax by listening to music or watching a movie.
Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research,
March 2006
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