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For Primary Care| View from the ground

How Can Audiobooks Help Us to Keep our Brains Active?

View From the Ground, by Dr Vasumathy Sivarajasingam

Maintaining wellbeing and a good work–life balance has become more difficult for GPs faced with an ever-increasing workload. To address this, I wanted to implement a small behavioural change in my daily routine, and a friend mentioned that listening to audiobooks and podcasts helped her to wind down before bedtime. She encouraged me to download an audiobook app onto my smartphone.

My preferred learning style is visual, and I therefore had not been an enthusiast for audiobooks. Nevertheless, I decided to challenge myself, and to my amazement, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experience and found it was another means to stimulate and entertain my brain. Although audiobooks are a modern concept, most of us have already experienced something similar when being read to in childhood.

Audiobooks have many benefits. They are a helpful tool for boosting mood and disrupting negative thinking patterns,1 particularly during COVID-19-related social distancing and self-isolation. Audiobooks have provided me with the same benefits as reading—stories stimulate the same cognitive and emotional areas, regardless of which medium is used. Audiobooks are simple to operate and have the potential to reduce stress, calm the mind, and boost mental health. Many people listen to soothing audiobooks before going to bed, which may help them to sleep and to improve sleep quality, an important factor in boosting and maintaining our mental health.

Additionally, audiobooks can enhance vital literacy skills such as fluency, vocabulary, and pronunciation.1 They are also a great way to build critical listening skills and improve focus and attention span. They can captivate the imagination, allowing listeners to create an entire world, and enabling people to escape daily worries.

Audiobooks may also benefit the older population, particularly those who can no longer hold a book because of conditions such as arthritis, or who are visually impaired. Being read to helps to maintain good mental health in elderly people,2 and may also play a role in alleviating loneliness.

I was flabbergasted to realise that I spend more than 10 hours per day staring at a screen when I am working—through remote consultations, Zoom meetings, attending webinars to keep up to date with clinical knowledge, and so on. It is no wonder that many of us feel eye strain towards the end of a busy day. Looking at digital screens can also lead to blurred vision, and long-term vision problems such as short-sightedness; the blue light from screens also disrupts circadian rhythms, directly impacting sleep.1 Unlike most forms of media today, audiobooks use our ears, allowing our eyes to relax. 

Audio technology permits multitasking, which may improve time management—mundane chores such as ironing or washing up can become more enjoyable, in turn reducing stress. Daily exercises can be a more pleasurable activity. Furthermore, listening to audiobooks is easy and travel-friendly, as they can be downloaded via any smartphone, tablet, desktop, or MP3 player. 

GPs should encourage patients, particularly the growing elderly population, to explore this mode of communication. I would highly recommend and anyone who is reluctant to listen to an audiobook or podcast, or has no experience of either, to give them a try. You may be pleasantly surprised at how they could revitalise your daily activities, stimulate your brain, and spark your curiosity to keep learning.

Dr Vasumathy Sivarajasingam

GP Partner, Hillview Surgery, West London