I'm good with faces and lousy with names. I can recount the plot of almost any movie I've seen but don't remember titles. I've always considered my lapses everyday and average, but there may be something sinister at work.
Last week, the New York Times ran an essay about the possible link between hearing loss and dementia. (Find a story about the research findings the essay refers to here.) The essay's author, Katherine Bouton, is a former Times editor and the author of the new book, “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I — and 50 Million Other Americans — Can’t Hear You.” She wears one hearing aid and has one cochlear implant. In other words, she has a powerful, personal interest in the research findings.
So do I. Two cochlear implants pulled me out of deafness, and I don't want to forget that fact-- or anything else that matters to me.
So far, there's no causal connection between hearing loss and dementia. That is to say, one doesn't appear to cause the other. There is, however, an "association" between the two that has spurred further research.
The first explanation for the association, as explained by Bouton, is that people with hearing loss tend to isolate themselves, and isolation ups the risk for dementia whether a person hears well or not.
The second explanation is that people who don't hear well work so hard to hear what another person is saying, they may not absorb the message.
The third's the scary one. There may be an underlying pathological mechanism that triggers both hearing loss and dementia. According to Bouton, "It could be something environmental. It could be something genetic. They just don’t know."
Do the research findings concern me? Sure. So far, though, I haven't lost sleep over them--not that I remember, anyway.
Believe it or not, there are collateral benefits of hearing loss. One, those of us with it develop coping skills. Two, we learn not to worry overmuch about things and situations that are out of our control. A noisy restaurant means we'll have to read lips to follow conversations. If, on the other hand, we're riding shotgun in a roofless Jeep on a windy day, we won't hear a thing the driver says and will focus, instead, on the scenery.
Thanks to lessons I've learned from hearing loss, I'll stay a few steps ahead if dementia stalks me. I'll cope with lists, sticky-note reminders, exercise, and vitamins. I will not, however, say, "Why me?" or moan.
Cancer, heart disease, mental-health problems and a host of other problems may challenge us one day, but we can't live our lives in fear. We can, however, really live our lives and wring something good and pleasurable out of every day we've got.
I'm curious about the kind of memory lapses I consider everyday and average. Have you ever called the cat by the dog's name? Put the peanut butter in the fridge instead of the pantry? Forgot where you hid something really, really important. Tell me quick before I forget the question.