Hearing Loss and Memory Challenges

What did you say? Sometimes you may be in a noisy environment or perhaps are distracted and not really listening to what is being said to you. Do you ask for a clarification or do you bluff it? Others may comment that you have selective hearing or that you need to get a hearing aid. While the circumstances may vary as well as an appropriate recommendation, the bottom line is that you might want to consider the information offered more seriously and see what might really be happening for you. When it comes to maximizing your memory, hearing really does matter. If you do not hear it correctly, key aspects are missing which can make a memory loss appear worse than it actually is.

Recently there are studies and even advertisements linking hearing loss with dementia. In my decades of experience working with older adults, the frequency of hearing loss is no surprise but the attitude toward what to do can vary from one situation to another. Some people are proactive while others have tried hearing aides and eventually stop wearing them. Others deny that there is a problem and feel that many people speak too softly or too fast and the discussion ends there.

Consultations with this population reveal many scenarios and there is the opportunity for education and recommendations for those with the hearing loss as well as those they interact with. In most cases, with increased awareness comes a willingness to make some modifications. What usually happens, as the research suggests, is that with a hearing loss there is less participation in conversation which then leads to decreased involvement in activities. Since one of the keys to memory fitness is socialization, it would be beneficial to address how a loss is impacting a person’s willingness to be around others especially when several people are gathered together. Then use some strategies to alter the outcome.

In addition to that, since you need to pay attention for 5 to 10 seconds to remember, recall becomes significantly reduced unless a person asks for verification.  Safety is another area of concern and I remember clearly the day I was driving, heard sirens but was not sure where they were coming from. I asked my mom if she knew and she did not even hear them. Safety can be compromised just as easily when someone warns a person with hearing loss to watch out for something like an object on the carpet or an unexpected step going down into another room.

Another aspect of the research talks about the additional challenge in following a message when some of the words are unclear. What happens is you are trying to figure out the first part of the message while it continues to progress.  To get an idea of what that might feel like, think about the times you are trying to follow a person speaking with a heavy accent, mumbling or talking too soft or fast.  Do you ask the person to repeat or do you eventually just tune out? Usually it is a lot work to focus, interpret and put all the parts and pieces of a message like that together. For those with just the changes in memory with normal aging, there is a point where it can be cognitive overload. That often leads to frustration which then kicks in those stress hormones and that has an impact on your ability to recall what was said.

Think about what you can do if your hearing is changing and begin by sharing some of this information with those you communicate with most often. There are many ways others can be part of enhancing communication and activity participation for the person with a hearing loss who expresses interest in being proactive.

Why not just take charge and create the experience you are looking for? Eric Allenbaugh

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters (www.memoryfitnessmatters.com) and Communication Connection(www.connectionsincommunication.com). She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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