Lumosity, hearing health and dementia
I always thought I was a relatively intelligent woman until I spent a week with my oldest daughter in Washington, D.C.
My girl lives in a very fast-paced world as it is – but it never seems to move fast enough for her. She runs down metro escalators. “C’mon, momma,” she calls over her shoulder. “We’ll miss the next train.” Her smart phone functions as her assistant – keeping her abreast of the latest bus schedule, finding nearby Chinese restaurants on New Year’s Eve and summoning Uber drivers when the movie we’re watching ends after the last bus runs – often simultaneously. She sometimes talks so fast I can’t understand what she’s saying.
During the few days I stayed in her apartment, we baked, shopped, played tourist, took in a dollar movie, talked, puzzled, walked, rode public transportation – and then she went to work, leaving me in her apartment to fend for myself. Before she left, she stood outside her tall apartment building and gave me a fast, cursory overview of the neighborhood, pointing as she spoke – walk a block this way to the grocery, that way to fast food, around the corner to shop at the mall. A visual learner, my head was spinning. Later that night when I couldn’t remember parts of a conversation we’d had the day before, she was convinced I was developing Alzheimer’s.
Probably not, I reasoned. Both of my parents are still alive and, although they’re aging, neither one exhibits any signs of dementia. Still, I worried that maybe I’d become too comfortable in life without children.
From my Healthy Hearing assignments, I know that research shows a direct link between untreated hearing loss and dementia. The longer you wait after your hearing loss diagnosis, the more likely it is your brain will forget how to hear. A 2011 study by Johns Hopkins researchers concludes you’re also more likely to develop dementia. The relationship between hearing loss and the brain is so fascinating that researchers are constantly studying the two to figure out links between the two.
For example, Oticon researchers are constantly looking for links between hearing, thinking and human behavior. Oticon is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of hearing devices. Their core technologies are designed to support the way the brain works by helping it orient to different sounds using both ears, separate sounds and focus on the desired source, focus on what’s important, and recognize sound and make sense of it.
I was originally introduced to Lumosity when I wrote about their partnership with Oticon last year. Lumosity is a brain-sharpening program developed by neuroscientists and used by 50 million members from 182 countries. It was fascinating to learn why Oticon was so committed to the relationship between hearing and brain cognition that they felt compelled to enter into a partnership with a company that believed playing online games can exercise your brain.
In the article I wrote last October, Sheena Oliver, Oticon Vice President of Marketing said their BrainHearing™ technology provides the brain with the clearest, purest signal possible so it doesn’t have to work as hard to understand what is being said. The partnership with Lumosity, she told me, allowed Oticon practitioners to encourage patients to keep their brains challenge and reinforce the benefits of Oticon’s BrainHearing™ technology at the same time by offering Lumosity subscriptions.
Even so, I wasn’t convinced enough to sign up for the service. I don’t have hearing loss – yet. God willing, I’ll live long enough to develop presbycusis – age-related hearing loss – and, by that time, be able to buy hearing aids that will give me the auditory capabilities of Wonder Woman.
But, back to the visit with my daughter ...
I couldn't stop thinking about that disturbing conversation, so I decided to do a little more research on Lumosity. I discovered that co-founder Mike Scanlon developed an interest in brain science in part because both of his grandfathers developed Alzheimer’s disease and he witnessed how devastating it was to watch them slip away. I also discovered health professionals estimate dementia will affect more than 100 million people worldwide by 2050. Alzheimer's, a disease of the brain tissue, accounts for more than 70 percent of all dementia cases.
I decided it definitely couldn't hurt for me to enroll in the Lumosity program. (Better safe than sorry, right?) Following a set of assessments commonly used in scientific experiments, I received a benchmark score, then committed to train three times a week with games the Lumosity metric determined for me.
Based on the information I enter each time I “train,” I know that I get between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights and, as a result, am in a good mood. Compared to other Lumosity users my age, I’m improving my percentiles – my overall LPI is now in the 59th percentile, speed (60), memory (47), attention (78), flexibility (44), problem solving (41).
In the past four weeks, I’ve improved my LPI, or Lumosity Performance Index, from 876 to 75. I’ve learned that my best brain areas are in the areas of attention and speed. Since I signed up, my brain function in the areas of speed, attention, flexibility and problem solving have improved. Not surprisingly, I’m scoring most like those in the art and design professions. From my training history, I can see I have work to do in the problem solving and memory area – meaning my daughter’s observation following my inability to recall parts of a recent conversation, albeit a bit hysterical, was eerily accurate.
“You’ll be happy to know I signed up for Lumosity this week, sis,” I told her not long ago.
“What is Lumosity?” she asked.
“It’s a brain training program,” I told her. “I took an assessment and the program assigns a series of games for me to play that challenge me mentally.”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. I could tell she was quickly processing my decision. “I approve,” she said finally with a lilt in her voice.
I can’t promise I’ll be able to keep up with her the next time I spend time in her world, but if the science of neuroplasticity works like Lumosity says it does, at least I know I’ll be doing the best I can.