Someday I figured a specific focus would fixate and my blogging would become more defined in scope. Let’s face it, life as a boomer has so many aspects to it that there could be a new topic every day. Perhaps more exciting for me, but less depth. And yeah, I’ll probably still make random posts and about other topics.
As y’all know I’m taking American Sign Language (ASL) again, this time very seriously. Not only is learning a new language good for the brain, but my hearing hasn’t been good since I had a severe blow the head as an 18 month old. It wiped out the hearing in one ear and seriously impacted the other side. My one “good ear” has been on the decline ever since and I’ve seen a noticeable loss in the last 9 months.
I’m certainly not the only one. About 1/3 of the folks in my ASL classes are Hard of Hearing (HoH) adults, mostly considered “late deafened” and trying to cope with life with greatly diminished sound. Some, like me, were affected young, mainstreamed and have been clinging to something like normalcy with our fingertips all our lives – with varying degrees of success. However, the vast majority of the HoH in my classes are experiencing hearing loss in their 40’s and 50’s.
Studies are coming out that relate a decline in the ability to hear with acceleration of gray matter atrophy in the auditory areas of the brain.
Most adults don’t want to admit they need hearing aids, they’re vain about their appearance … which begs the point about how attractive it is to be constantly saying, “Huh? What did you say? Stop mumbling!” … and they start dropping out of life as well as driving their significant other batty with the TV at full volume. Or totally misinterpreting what they’re being told and making embarrassing mistakes.
What makes this all scarier is that mild hearing loss – that’s right – mild hearing loss is linked to brain atrophy in older adults. It makes it more difficult for older adults to successfully comprehend speech. Brain density decreases in the auditory areas. Folks with moderate hearing loss have to work harder to understand complex sentences. Not only that, but it affects all sound processing. Hearing loss also increases social isolation and often is accompanied by depression.
Early treatment with hearing augmentation devices helps preserve the ability to hear and understand speech and interpret other sounds as well. And if you hear from someone who complains their new hearing aid makes it sound like “hollering down rain barrel” be sure to let them know that if they wait long enough and get bad off enough it will go away – like it did for me. I can’t hear well enough to get that “rain barrel” effect anymore.
Take it from someone who was not fitted with a hearing aid for about 30 years after I had my initial hearing loss. You lose things. I lost fricative consonants by the time I was in my early 40’s. My brain simply stopped knowing what to do with those verbal noises. Lip reading is only good when you’re close in and face to face. And at best lip reading is good for only about 1/3 accuracy – your brain attempts to fill in the rest.
I will bet you ten tiki torches and a Buddha statue that if you check out elderly member of the Deaf Community you will find that ASL keeps them from experiencing loss of brain density. They might not be much better at identifying random sounds, but they keep the part of the brain that interprets speech as stimulated as if they were hearing.