NEWSCASTER: Hearing loss is more than just a problem with watching your favorite show or catching what your friends or family are saying. New studies show hearing loss can actually lead to cognitive decline, even dementia. To tell us about a new device which can detect the early signs of cognitive decline, we welcome Fort Myers audiologist Jack Adams.
This is a device that’s about a year old or less?
JACK: Yes, and it is fascinating. I have recently attended several seminars and workshops related to this topic because the research that is being done is just really phenomenal. I mean, through brain mapping now, we can actually see what type of impairment and what type of cognitive decline actually occurs in the brain as a result of not being able to hear.
NEWSCASTER: It’s something that you don’t think about a lot, or at least the layperson doesn’t, how related cognitive decline can be for those who are hard of hearing. On your notes here, I mean, the statistics are amazing, actually disturbing.
JACK: Oh yeah, I mean, even for very, very mild degrees of hearing loss, we can now document and show changes that occur in the brain relative to the fact that they are not being stimulated and not getting their full complement of sound.
It’s called auditory deprivation, meaning that the brain isn’t getting enough sound to do what it’s supposed to do, and so it starts to atrophy and not function as well as it could.
NEWSCASTER: Wow. And so a device like this can at least tell you to what level of the cognitive decline they’re experiencing. Can it be reversed or how would you then address that?
JACK: Well, it can be reversed. I mean, the studies have shown that individuals that have showed some cognitive decline or cognitive atrophy, after they started using hearing aids, within six months, you could see the activity in the brain refocus back to the temporal lobe where it’s supposed to be processed. And so there is some reversal of that if it’s caught early enough.
NEWSCASTER: Yes. How exactly does it work? How do you administer the testing?
JACK: Well, this testing is fascinating. It uses psychophysics, physics that assess words and shapes and visual skills and motor skills. And you sit in front of a device, and you try to manipulate the device or the wheel to identify particular words, identify particular shapes in as rapid a time as you can.
And the psychophysics behind it has documented that (and this is an FDA cleared device) that will actually show results for memory, for visual spatial skills, for executive function, which is our ability to reason and think, as well as processing time and processing speed. And those are all really important things relative to be able to hear and process information properly.
NEWSCASTER: It’s truly remarkable. Is it widely available now, or are you one of the first to have it?
JACK: I think I’m the only one in this area that has it. I mean, you know, it is available to other practitioners, but I think I’m the only one that is doing it presently. Yes, and I’m using it on all of my patients to get a baseline of their cognitive skills so we can monitor whether or not it changes over time relative to their hearing loss.
NEWSCASTER: It’s amazing. How are they, I would assume, very receptive to it once they understand what it’s doing?
JACK: Yeah, sometimes people don’t necessarily want to know what those cognitive abilities are, but it helps me explain why people may not do well in noisy environments. It helps me explain why somebody might be not doing a hundred percent with their hearing aids because audibility is just one part of it. We have to be able to process that information.
So if the hearing aid’s working really well and allowing people to hear, but they’re not able to understand speech still well, then we start looking at the cognitive factors that may be influencing their ability to perform in any given environment.
NEWSCASTER: Versus a mechanical issue with a lot of devices?
NEWSCASTER: Is this something that insurance covers, or is it something that’s more out of pocket at this point?
JACK: Right now, because of the new element of it, I’m not charging anybody. I just included it as part of my battery of tests when we evaluate somebody’s hearing.
NEWSCASTER: It’s remarkable. How can people get in touch with you and try this out if they want to or if they should?
JACK: My office is Audiology Consultants of Southwest Florida. You can Google audiologists in Fort Myers. Our phone number is 481-2088. We’d be glad to see any and all patients that are interested in not only their hearing loss but the potential for their cognitive decline as a result of that hearing loss.
NEWSCASTER: It’s so important, even if you’re reluctant, to at least catch it and perhaps get some reversal of it and get the help that you need.