Auditory Overload

Updated:Feb 6,2014

Excerpted from "Auditory Overload" appearing in Stroke Connection Magazine January/February 2002. (Last science update March 2013)

Sound is airwaves or vibrations that cause a sensory stimulation of the auditory (hearing) system. Many skills are needed to translate sounds into meaningful language. Sometimes sounds become overwhelming, and our brains can’t decipher meaningful speech from noise. If noise levels become too loud or last too long, our auditory system can overload. When that happens, it becomes impossible to understand what is being said.

There are several symptoms that may indicate auditory overload. These include:

  • Inability to concentrate on a task or speaker
  • Becoming fidgety
  • Becoming impulsive and doing things quickly
  • Persisting on a task, or doing the same action over and over
  • Becoming distracted by any stimulation such as lights, movements of others or objects in a room

Auditory overload can happen to anyone at any time. Occasions such as parties and other social gatherings increase the likelihood of experiencing this overload. If you begin to feel this overload or notice the above-mentioned symptoms in a friend or family member:

  • Find a quiet room or corner to go to. Distance yourself from noise as much as possible.
  • Be well rested before attending large social gatherings. When you are tired, your auditory system will not process sound as effectively as when you are rested.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol, which reduces the content and quality of communication.
  • Ask the host to turn down or turn off the music if it is competing with people’s conversations. While music can relax and soothe, when it competes with communication, it becomes noise.
  • Carry earplugs with you and wear them when you need to. They will help reduce the intensity of the noise and decrease the amount of stimulation your system is trying to process.
Read more Aphasia articles:

        Reading, Writing and Math 

        Maximizing Communication Recovery & Independence

        Tips from people living with aphasia



This content was last reviewed on 03/18/2013.