You’ve probably heard the tips. Visualize something about the person that will remind you of the name: Rose — the woman wearing the pink sweater. Spike — the guy with the hair. Repeat the name either mentally or out loud.
But that doesn’t always help. Maybe you’re at a business meeting with new clients. They’re all dressed alike. They all look alike, for that matter. Who’s who? What did he say? Or a cocktail party. Even social chatter can be uncomfortable if you can’t hear the person’s name.
Senior moment? Maybe. Symptoms of what we call normal age-related hearing loss can be alarming but are generally not indicative of serious decline. If you sometimes forget a name, occasionally have to search for a word, misplace your keys, you probably shouldn’t worry. If these things happen on a regular basis and seem to be increasing in frequency, you should have a test to see if you might have MCI, mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
But if your problem is failing to remember the names or occupations or interests of people you meet, the cause may be much simpler and easily corrected. Perhaps you are just not hearing them.
If you have to work to hear, which is the case with even mild hearing loss in a noisy environment — at a party, an office gathering, on the street — your cognitive energies are focused on deciphering what is said. You’re introduced to someone whose name you don’t get. You ask him to repeat it. You still don’t quite get it. The conversation goes on from there, and within a couple of minutes you’ve lost track of the subject. You’re guessing at responses, making noncommittal replies, smiling and nodding your head. And then when you walk away you have no idea who you were talking to, or what you were talking about.
Sound familiar? Before you panic about early-onset dementia, have your hearing tested. Hearing aids, or hearing-aid-like devices, can be a quick fix. Directional microphones allow you to focus on the person speaking. Add assistive listening devices like the Phonak Roger pen or a Pocket Talker and you may hear more clearly than anyone else in the room.
Hearing better can make those social and business encounters less stressful. More important, hearing better may help stave off cognitive decline. Hearing clearly leaves greater cognitive reserve for remembering, responding, analyzing and even thinking.
Watch the woman with the gray hair in the video below (and listen to the babble). Her body language says she’s uneasy, turning away and turning back. Maybe it’s because she can’t really hear over all those voices? I can relate to that.
Photo: Galaxia/iStock; Video: Viafilms/iStock
This post first appeared on AARP-Health, Feb 18, 2015.