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Memory and the Senses: Hear the Difference

15 Dec

The Rich Sounds of Memory

When we talk about memory we are referring to the complicated process of retrieving bits and pieces of information collected at another point in time.    Some memories are very powerful and easy to recall and others seem to fade into the background.

It makes sense that those pieces of information with more hooks – context, background info, emotional factors – are stronger.   Those memories are filled with all kinds of emotional and intellectual information all triggered by sensory data.   Think about it.   We define moments in context and that context is filled with sensory data – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feel.   The “things” that make a memory rich are in the sensory data associated with the event.

When you take away chunks of sensory data, you definitely lose value.   Smells, for example, are great triggers – new car smell, the scent of fall, popcorn, and the smell of new vinyl all can bring in a rush of memories.

Sounds do the same.   Today when I walked through the grocery store parking lot it was the sounds that made the moment:

  • the Salvation Army bell ringer,
  • cars driving through the puddles,
  • recess at the pre-school across the street,
  • a woman on her cell phone,
  • the soles of my shoes crunching through a pile of dried leaves,
  • a yellow lab panting at the window of the car as he waited, not so patiently,
  • the sound of the broken wheel on the grocery cart I took from the middle of the lot

The sounds of my life made that mundane moment both rich and memorable.   In short, take away or diminish my hearing and my life loses a depth and quality that I would sorely miss.

Hearing loss is a big issue for my generation.   I spent my younger years with a transistor radio attached to my head; my teen years no more than a foot away from a set of speakers; my early adult years at concerts and bars with loud music or with headphones blasting sounds directly onto my eardrums; and now not a day goes by when I am not piping music or spoken word into my ears through highly tuned ear buds or incredibly cool headphones.   I know I need to be careful or I will lose one of those things that make my life so rich.

Hearing loss, unlike the sense of smell or taste, is something you can do something about and still retain dignity.   The first step is to find a professional and get a hearing test.   Next, if you or someone you know has hearing loss, look into getting some help.   Hearing aides are now almost undetectable.   Check out a few here.   They are not like my grandmother’s hearing aids or even my mom’s.

I guess our memories are our own personal body of work.  They are all those events that make us who we are and brought us to this moment in time.   Creating good, strong rich memories means engaging your senses and the best way to do that is collect as much information as you can.    The sounds of your life are too precious to lose.

American Speech and Hearing Association

So, speak up if you keep hearing “what did you say” or if you get blank stares at the dinner table this holiday season and recommend a hearing test.

Even though I wrote this piece while participating in a campaign by BOOMboxNetwork.com on behalf of ASHA and received payment for my participation, I jumped at the chance to Speak Up about hearing loss and will continue to do so.   Needless to say, all opinions stated within are my own – wouldn’t have it any other way.

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