16 October 2014

Persons with hearing impairments are affected more negatively by noise in working life than their colleagues with normal hearing are. They fare worse, mentally and physically, and they are also more tired during working hours and after work as well.

Håkan Hua demonstrates this in his thesis from the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning and the Swedish Institute for Disability Research.

More people – and younger people – are resorting to audiology; it’s not just the elderly and retirees who have problems. 800,000 actively employed people in Sweden are hearing-impaired. This means that in many workplaces – from office environments to schools to industry – there are people who have impaired hearing and are thus extra sensitive to noises.

Noise has a tremendous effect

“Noise has a tremendous effect on people with impaired hearing. In this study, we investigated the ability of the hearing-impaired to complete certain work tasks in noisy environments. The study shows that they are more sensitive to intense noise levels, and that it affects their cognitive abilities such as thinking and solving problems,” Mr Hua says.

40 people with an average age between 40 and 47 were tested in the study. They represent various occupations such as preschool staff, industrial workers, civil servants and health care staff, and were divided into two groups. One group consisted of persons with good hearing; the other of persons who use hearing aids daily and have light to moderate hearing impairment. They were exposed to different types of noise from places such as an office environment, traffic, and a preschool.

The results show that it is not only cognitive abilities in hearing-impaired persons that could be affected but also their mental, psychosocial, and physiological state.

“This also affects social interaction among colleagues. Those with hearing impairments feel more socially vulnerable, and prefer to avoid things when it’s noisy,” Mr Hua says.

A hearing aid doesn't solve everything

One conclusion he draws from the results is that there is much left to do in working life to make things easier for this large group.

“For example, it’s possible to do more about room acoustics. But on the whole, it’s also important that colleagues and employers are aware of how people who are hearing-impaired are doing in their workplaces. It’s easy to think a hearing aid solves everything, but this obviously isn’t so. From the results and previous research, we can get an idea that an interesting group to look at further is younger women and preschool staff with hearing impairments.”

The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers at Örebro University.

Mr Hua defended his thesis on 3 October. The thesis is titled ”Employees with aided hearing impairment – An interdisciplinary perspective