Poor Hearing Can Impair Memory

Brain's struggle to grasp speech comes at the expense of recall, experts say

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THURSDAY, Aug. 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults with mild- to moderate-hearing loss may use up so much cognitive effort trying to hear and understand speech that it undermines their ability to remember what they've just heard, a new study suggests.

The study found that even when older, hearing-impaired adults heard words well enough to repeat them, they weren't able to memorize and remember those words as well as older adults with good hearing.

"This study is a wake-up call to anyone who works with older people, including health care professionals, to be especially sensitive to how hearing loss can affect cognitive function," study lead researcher Arthur Wingfield, a professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., said in a prepared statement.

The findings appear in latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

"There are subtle effects of hearing loss on memory and cognitive function in older adults. The effect of expending extra effort comprehending words means there are fewer cognitive resources for higher level comprehension," Wingfield noted.

Individuals interacting with hearing-impaired adults, especially caregivers and health care workers, may want to keep this type of deficit in mind, the researchers said.

For example, they could modify how they communicate by speaking clearly and pausing after clauses in speech, or after separate chunks of meaning, Wingfield said. This doesn't mean they have to dramatically slow down their speech, however -- just speak more clearly, he said.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about adult hearing loss.

SOURCE: Brandeis University, news release, Aug. 12, 2005

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