Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Who Wants to Hear Bad News? Nobody

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.


Coleen Patrick said...

I don't think a day goes by where I am saying the definition of a word instead of the word. But my new memory trick is combining words, especially if I'm talking fast. Smoda=small soda. As for the studies, they worry me too, but then I remember one from a criminal justice class in college that correlated an increase in consumption of ice cream with an increase in crime. The study didn't even consider the idea that summer (when more people are out and about) was the bigger factor for the increase. :)

Lark Howard said...

Interesting post, Pat. Memory is such a strange thing. I have a friend who remembers all kinds of details from when we were in high school--teachers' names, specific events, classmates--and for me it's pretty much a blur. On the other hand, I remember technical details of cases I worked on fifteen years ago. Perhaps it's about what's important to you.

Memory lapses for me come when I'm distracted, tired or not feeling well. Or bored. Many of my most aggravating lapses occur at the grocery store when I know we need something and can't remember what it is. Yeah, a list would solve that problem but I'm not much of a list person.

Also, if it wasn't for my iPhone and Outlook calendar that remind me of appointments, I'd be in constant trouble. Maybe it's relying on them that makes me mentally lazy, but I'm not about to test that theory by giving them up!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

The consumption-of-ice-cream-equals-increase-in-crime study reassures me, Coleen. In summer, more people are out and about. They leave windows open and rely on flimsy screen doors. At the beach, we leave belongings on the sand, and the heat makes tempers rise.

I like your word-combining trick.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I make grocery lists, Lark, and still come home without an item that was on the list but skimmed over by me.

Uh oh, did I just undo the good work Coleen did reassuring me?

Anyway, I'm not a bit surprised you remember details from cases you worked on fifteen years ago. Certain work projects are burned into our brains.

You're smart to rely on the iPhone and Outlook calendar. I write things down on a big wall calendar.

Eden Mabee said...

Pat, you are doing so many things right in the "avoiding dementia" area--I wouldn't worry. (Not that worrying really would change much anyway...)

Case in point though--my grandfather (going on 91 this year) never got my name right--he always called me my mother's name. He also couldn't hear well (he was both a farmer and steel mill worker, not to mention a WWII veteran), and he never got hearing aids or socialized (he was just one step from being the old guy who chased all the neighbor kids away, but only because he let Grandma do that for him).

Anyway, to make a long story short--the man is a sharp as a tack, even now. He reads heavily, watches political debates and tries to follow both sides of the conversation without judgement, and has even taken to doing fact checks on a computer in the past year.

It truly is, LIVE your life! Don't worry, because that worry is time taken away from living.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I remember work projects from years ago, as well as my favorite album at the time I was working on them! But I regularly do things like put the dishrag in the fridge, and I'm always forgetting to shut the garage door. I'm 46 - should I be worried? :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Eden! Thanks so much for sharing your grandfather's experience, especially the" tries to follow both sides of the conversation without judgement" part. That's what I aspire to do. Love his last-checking, too.

Gosh, I feel better now.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette! So far, I've never forgotten to close the garage door, but I've forgotten that I closed it and have circled back home to check at least a dozen times.

No, you shouldn't be worried, but you're the only person I know who chills her dishrags.

Kassandra Lamb said...

Pat, I always chuckle when I read your posts! Studies have found that there are no more lapses of memory in middle-aged people as there are in young adults (although once you get past middle age, things change some). But as we age, we tend to blame our memory lapses on aging. So as young people, we call them brain farts; as older people, we call them senior moments.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Ooh, Kassandra, I like your study results. Thanks for sharing them--and for reassuring me.

alarna Rose Gray said...

That list of memory lapses sounds pretty normal to me! I notice Kassandra there says young adults have as many lapses as middle-aged people - which I'm relieved to hear, because I sometimes think I'm ageing prematurely. Maybe it is not about memory or ageing at all, but simply the mind being on too many things at once.

Sheila Seabrook said...

Gosh, Pat, everything you mention is something I've done, so I don't think you have anything to worry about. In my books, you're quite normal.

I have inlaws with age-related hearing issues and have read the studies that you mentioned in this post. The one that stands out the most the study about people with hearing problems having to focus on the words and not grasping the context of what's being said. I see that in my 93 your old father-in-law, who has worn hearing aids for the past 10 years or more. He understands quite well if he's sitting down one-on-one with someone (like his banker, insurance agent, etc), but if there's more than two people in the room, the multiple voices and increas in other sounds results in him missing much of the conversation until he gets frustrated and simply tunes out.

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Oh my God - I suffer from all of those things in your last paragraph but I chalked it all up to menopause. Holy smokes. Maybe I'm just going deaf. I think at this point, I'll take deafness over menopause.

I can totally relate to your hearing problem as I have been visually impaired since I was eight. I can't enjoy a lot of activities like snorkling because I won't be able to see anything unless it's 5 inches in front of my face.

But I've never complained. I've just accepted it as a way of life and avoided snorkling. (sigh) And I'm really good at "feeling" my way around in a dark room. I'm so not afraid of the dark because I've developed quite a skill set for getting around without being able to see.

We're all going to suffer from something, thanks to Adam and Eve if you believe that story, so I'll take my vision loss since I'm already used to it. God help me if I must learn to cope with something else.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Karen McFarland said...

Oh wow, those are interesting findings. Although, may I just say how much stress has a bearing on memory loss. It's scary Pat. And I know others who have said the same thing. I think we're all losing our minds one way or another. Just a theory mind you. So glad you're hearing is back Pat. I can't imagine how awful that was NOT to hear. Something most of us take for granted. Not anymore. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your posting. I was struck with severe hearing loss in my early 20s and have had a difficult life coping - but cope I did (and do). Multilingual, successful career in International Business and now teaching at a University. I believe the correlation between hearing loss and dementia is the isolation that causes people to withdraw from others and they lose their social and mental skills. I'm very happy the cochlear implants worked for you.