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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Straining to Hear and Fend Off Dementia

At a party the other night, a fund-raiser for a literary magazine, I found myself in conversation with a well-known author whose work I greatly admire. I use the term “conversation” loosely.

I couldn’t hear a word he said. But worse, the effort I was making to hear was using up so much brain power that I completely forgot the titles of his books.

A senior moment? Maybe. (I’m 65.) But for me, it’s complicated by the fact that I have severe hearing loss, only somewhat eased by a hearing aid and cochlear implant.

Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, describes this phenomenon as “cognitive load.” Cognitive overload is the way it feels. Essentially, the brain is so preoccupied with translating the sounds into words that it seems to have no processing power left to search through the storerooms of memory for a response.

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