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PTSD, Hearing, and Gaming

PTSD, Hearing, and Gaming by: Ali

What Is The Link Between PTSD And Hearing Sensitivity In Veterans?

PTSD is a common condition among veterans, with statistics showing that around 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans, in particular, have PTSD during a given year. PTSD poses a big challenge for those battling it, with symptoms including intrusive thoughts, increased arousal, and sensory sensitivity. A 2019 study has found that this condition has a major effect on noise and light sensitivity in particular. The findings indicate the extent to which treatment targeting specific symptoms can bring about improvements in sensory sensitivity.

What Effect Does PTSD Have On Hearing Sensitivity In Particular?

The study found that in blast-exposed veterans with mild traumatic brain injury, intrusive experiences were significantly linked to noise sensitivity, while white light noise was significantly related to avoidance. Another (2017) study showed that those with PTSD responded differently to certain sounds. Using an EEG test (which detects electrical activity in the brain), researchers tested 13 patients with PTSD, observing their brain’s response to simple auditory sensory changes. Patients listened to simple (standard 1000Hz) tones every second, then listened to slightly altered tones (1200Hz). Those with PTSD showed enhanced reactivity to the altered tones. The researchers stated that the more significant the response was, the more likely they were to perform poorly on tests involving memory. They stated that “the neurobiological evidence we now have shows how altered brain activity of a patient with PTSD is closely related to the way it processes the world.”

High-Intensity Blasts And Decreased Sound Tolerance

Hearing sensitivity and decreased sound tolerance can manifest themselves in many ways. A 2019 study published in the journal, Scientific Reports found, for instance, that vets who have been exposed to loud blasts can develop hyperacusis (an intolerance to the loudness of sounds at low-to-moderate intensity levels). Other conditions can include noise sensitivity (which is not related to perceived loudness but to physiological and psychological internal states that increase reactivity to sound as a whole), and phonophobia (the fear that sounds can exacerbate another auditory condition, such as tinnitus). Researchers stated that “a stronger association between blast exposure and decreased sound tolerance was seen for Veterans than for Service members.” They recommend that screening questions regarding decreased sound tolerance should be included during health assessments of veterans. They also pointed out the need to develop better diagnostic tools capable of identifying the type of sound intolerance each veteran may be battling.

How Can Hearing Sensitivity Impact The Everyday Lives Of Veterans?

Hearing sensitivity can interfere with daily life in many ways, potentially causing conditions such as a general fear of sounds (phonophobia) or a fear of specific sounds (misophonia). To curtail the effects of noises that can result in distress, specific headphones and sound systems by long standing sound engineers can be used to avoid deviant noise or program headphones to play white noise – especially at night, when PTSD can interfere with sleep. High-end systems are already being used for veterans with PTSD in audio therapy, which involves using a specific headset while thinking about trauma. The intention is to disrupt specific memories through the use of specific frequencies. The result for many vets has been positive, with many reporting a reduction in anger, anxiety and difficult emotions following treatment. Music therapy has also been used to curtail intrusions, avoidance and hyperarousal, and is often incorporated into the clinical treatment of PTSD.

How Can Music Help?

Music therapy, imparted by trained specialists, is considered a ‘resilience-enhancing intervention’, as it can help veterans recover a sense of normality in their daily lives. As stated by scientists, “Resilience is cultivated through processes that reduce stress and fear, increase self-confidence, and foster social support.” Previous studies have shown that music therapy can successfully reduce stress levels and increase dopamine release. It can also increase one’s sense of connectedness to the community. Of course, music is only one of many therapies that can be incorporated into treatment for PTSD, alongside ‘gold standard’ methods like PTSD and even animal-assisted therapy.

What About Gaming?

Gaming might also play a role in improving veterans’ ability to differentiate between different sounds. Daniel Polley and his team at Harvard Medical School have actually design a game that helps players filter different noises in loud environments. To win, players have to solve a puzzle by listening to different sounds. The level of background noises increases as they play, making it increasingly challenging to filter out potentially bothersome sounds, but also showing them that it is possible when the brain rather than the ear is targeted.

If you are a vet who has sound intolerance or hearing sensitivity, VA medical clinics provide a full range of hearing services and offer sound therapy, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy. Some programs involve the use of music, both during therapy and at home, so discuss topics like white noise therapy and anti-stress music therapy, since therapists are likely to be aware of these methods. Some may even incorporate music and other therapies into CBT and other sessions. Ideally, testing should identify which type of intolerance affects you, so that treatment can be personalized for greater efficiency.

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