2020 Ep 3. Alsheimer’s and Dementia’s Connection to Hearing Loss

The Transcript

Dale Johnson: What does hearing loss have to do with dementia? Well, a lot. A health and retirement study by the American Geriatic Society showed about 9% of dementia cases are attributable to hearing loss in midlife. That’s where we’re going today on The Conversation Starts Here. Welcome. This is Dale Johnson on KFOR FM 103.3, 1240 AM. Much more on that subject and a wide range of subjects today and next week with Gale Jungemann-Schultz, outreach marketing coordinator for Complete Hearing here in Lincoln and 4200 Pioneer Woods Drive. You can check everything complete-hearing.com. Welcome Gale.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Well, thank you. It’s great to be here.

Dale Johnson: And Daniel Kasparek here. Daniel Kasparek is here. Daniel is a speech language pathologist and much more from Brian West. Dan, thank you very much for coming in.

Daniel Kasparek: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Dale Johnson:  Let’s just start with a little bit of background because usually Dr. Miller is sitting right where you’re sitting now, Gale. Introduce yourself to our good listeners.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: My background is in social work and human services. I spent about 40 years in that field, and this is an area that’s near and dear to my heart. Worked some in semi-skilled and skilled care and other areas of social services. So dealing with special needs related to hearing was just one of the components that we addressed.

Dale Johnson: Dan, you’re involved in speech language. Share your background with us.

Daniel Kasparek: Yep. I’ve been a speech pathologist for about 15 years. My background is in linguistics and speech pathology. I see a wide range of patients from a traumatic brain injury to stroke, kind of run the gamut.

Dale Johnson: What I have learned, many things that I’ve learned in the conversations with Dr. Miller is that there are a lot of life factors that are connected to hearing. Loneliness connected to hearing, can be. Productivity is related to hearing.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: The number of people living with dementia is projected to increase by 57% in the next couple of decades. The strongest midlife risk factor for dementia is hearing impairment. 9% of dementia cases are attributable to hearing loss in midlife. That’s almost one out of every 10 people.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Isn’t that scary?

Dale Johnson: That is scary.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: When you think about that.

Dale Johnson: For a lot of people the connection between dementia and hearing isn’t a connecting of the dots. Take us down that road of conversation, Gale. Let’s go there with dementia and hearing loss.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Dementia often begins occurring much earlier than we are aware of, and when you have hearing loss you really are focusing on what someone is saying and the pieces that you’re missing, and your brain has to engage and replace the words, the information that you’re not hearing, you’re not picking up. That becomes a very exhausting process, and people start to pull away, don’t want to go to as many social activities. There are a whole variety of things and yes, there is absolutely a physical connection to many types of dementia, but we also see that as people engage less, they’re less likely to be oriented to day, date and time. They’re much less likely to be oriented to the things that are going on around them. They start to disengage from their families, and so that isolation also impacts dementia and I think it’s really important to remember that.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz:
And I’ll just share a personal story. My mother is just about 90 has dementia, and I could tell that her hearing was being impacted. One of the things that I learned early on in my career was that there was a question, what was hearing loss and what was dementia? Were people actually just not hearing us or was there actually confusion about what they were were hearing? So comprehension is a big part of that as well.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: It’s really important to take a look at that and find out what the cause is. If you’re experiencing hearing loss and that is driving stress factors, it’s driving your ability to take in information, that’s going to also affect how you’re perceiving the world at that point in time.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: In my mother’s case when we actually got her into a really good pair of hearing aids, it was like it arrested her dementia and it’s wonderful, and I can tell when she has been engaging with people. I can tell any day that she has had conversations with individuals because she’s much more oriented. She loves to sit down in the midst of my 11 grandchildren and she can take in all that’s going on. She always loved that, but she’d stop doing that. So it’s really fun to watch her do that. But then she also remembers the fact that she had that event. She might not remember the day or the time, but if you’ll say, “Oh, do you remember talking to one of the grandchildren?” She often will.

Dale Johnson: Well, she’s an active participant at that point as well.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely. And that’s important. And you know about that Dan so [inaudible 00:05:53].

Dale Johnson: Well, I do, and I was thinking too when you said effort and you talked about exhaustion. There’s exhaustion piece on, of course, the person speaking, but also the listener. I think that can drive that isolation too. There’s much more effort put forward by the listener for the other conversation partner when they have to keep repeating, and trying to make sure that they’re understanding. So having that component of being able to hear, you know, it takes away that sort of mitigating factor.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely.

Daniel Kasparek: To simplify it in my terms, hearing shouldn’t be work.

Dale Johnson: Right, right, right.

Daniel Kasparek: Hearing shouldn’t be work.

Dale Johnson: Conversation should be fun where we’re sharing personal stories. With my accident and my limb loss, my leg, what I have learned is that for me, walking is work. Walking for you, you Dan, you Gale, walking isn’t work.

Daniel Kasparek: Right.

Dale Johnson: And I watched people walk now and it’s not work right?

Daniel Kasparek: It should be second nature.

Dale Johnson: But my life has changed to the point where now it’s work, and I could relate that to exactly what you said Gale, is that hearing becomes work.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: For people who are losing it and that increases the stress.

Daniel Kasparek: Right.

Dale Johnson: And fair to say that there’s some brain training that needs to happen to accept the hearing device or to interpret the hearing device applied.

Daniel Kasparek:  Sure, sure. So, we’ve had, let’s say you’re 50 years old, 60 years old. You’ve had 60 years to train your brain a certain way.

Dale Johnson: Exactly.

Daniel Kasparek: The best pathways through your brain, and when those start to diminish, we have to retrain the brain. And again, like you said, now you’re putting effort in where there was never effort before. It was second nature. You’ve done it your whole life. Absolutely you have to more concentration. It becomes work again.

Dale Johnson: Six months after my motorcycle crash and my first prosthetic, we went to Machu Picchu and we were climbing Machu Picchu, and I was constantly looking down. My stepdaughter pointed out to me, “Look up, look what you’re missing” because walking became work.

Daniel Kasparek: Right, right.

Dale Johnson: Now I can relate this to someone who has hearing loss because if I’m concentrating, Gale, on what you’re saying, I’m losing the ambiance of the environment. I’m more focused on working to hear what you have to say, and it lessens the enjoyment of the event or the conversation that I’m in.

Daniel Kasparek: And that’s particularly true in a group. You know, Gale, you talked about your mother. Think of the amount of work that you have to put forward if there’s constantly different speakers, you know, different loudness levels, different tones, and now each time you have to adapt and change and put forth that much more effort. It becomes exhausting again.

Dale Johnson: This study that we started talking about here, at least 10% of individuals age 40 to 69 show some degree of measurable hearing impairment, but they’re not getting relief from their hearing loss until they’re older.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: You know, hearing loss sneaks up on you.

Dale Johnson: It does.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: And I’ve watched that in my entire career. We miss the little cues, and Dr. Miller can speak to that so effectively when she talks about individuals saying, “You know, going out is just exhausting anymore” or “I go to my favorite restaurant and I just can’t hear the conversation and we think it, you know, might be whatever’s echoing around the room or something else.” No, that’s really an indicator that you’re losing your hearing.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: We don’t consider our hearing needing to be tested on a regular basis like we have go to the doctor on a regular basis, right?

Dale Johnson: Right, right.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: So we don’t have an annual checkup or a biannual checkup for our hearing. And yet there are little triggers that we’re missing and not paying attention to, which affects major parts of our life.

Daniel Kasparek: When you have those small losses over time, you notice there’s not this dramatic, one day I can hear perfectly the next day. I have such great difficulty. So I think it does. It just goes on noticed until it becomes a real problem.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: My father had hearing loss from a very young age, and it was very difficult at that time to really be able to support his hearing. The technology just wasn’t there. He developed great skills and picked up a lot of cues, but he would always have people sit in front of him, and it became second nature for him to ask someone to sit in front of him because he basically read their lips, and he picked up the rest of the cues.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: He was a very effective communicator all of his life, but that again, takes a lot of work, a lot of effort and you need to know that it’s going on. He knew it was going on.

Daniel Kasparek: Right.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz:
He knew it couldn’t be repaired and he had to learn new skills. Today with the brand new technology, it’s amazing what people can hear and they can hear in a more natural fashion. We are not just amplifying sound anymore, and we just did a show on that.

Dale Johnson: Yes we did. The difference between a hearing amplifying device and a hearing aid.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: Complete-hearing.com is the place to go. Before we run out of time, Gale, let’s look ahead at some events that Complete Hearing have involvement in. The Women’s Expo, which is going on this week.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: This week, starts today.

Dale Johnson: At the Lancaster Events Center.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Starts today and tomorrow, so make sure you come out. We’ve got some fun things at our booth. We’ve got a great little swag bag you can win, and also the opportunity to be able to have a hearing screening in our office at a later date, so make sure stop by the booth, and come out and support all the great businesses.

Dale Johnson: At the Lancaster Events Center. And while you’re at complete-hearing.com, there you’ll find a link to the Lincoln Choice Awards, and under the tab of Health and Wellbeing, put in Complete Hearing.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Please do.

Dale Johnson: Thank you very much, Dan.

Daniel Kasparek: I appreciate you having me.

Gale Jungemann-Schultz: Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: All right. Every Saturday morning, we’re here on The Conversation Starts Here. Thanks to the good folks at Complete Hearing. I’m Dale Johnson.