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Meet Leslie Van Grove

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie Van Grove.

Leslie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It is estimated that there are 48 million Americans who live with hearing loss. I am one of them. Most of us experience some form of stigma, bias, and prejudice, as the condition is a misunderstood and complicated personal dynamic. Hearing loss is, ironically, a silent impairment.

When someone has a visual or physical disability, others may be more sensitive to cues that the person may be in need of assistance and consequently empathetic to accommodate simple needs. With hearing loss, the person is not immediately recognized for the circumstances that the condition presents. Mostly, a hearing loss is unrecognized or misunderstood. Often, a person may be perceived as being socially awkward, non-responsive, distant or withdrawn.

I have lived with a profound hearing loss for most of my adult life. Because my vocal expression is crisp and articulate, it is not obvious that I have such a profound bilateral hearing loss (more than 110 dBs). As an example, the average person will start noticing challenges with hearing at around 25 dB loss depending on frequency losses. With the use of hearing aids, I am able to function but still struggle with many overwhelming and competing sounds, including noise pollution, cross-talk with more than two people engaging, or restaurants and traffic that cannot be tuned out. Most of us, even if we aren’t aware of it, rely on facial expressions, body language, vocal tone, volume, and pitch modulation to smooth the landscape and jagged edges of communication that may often be taken for granted. With the current use of wearing masks because of the COVID pandemic, many, even those with exceptional hearing are challenged by the muffled sounds of voices and other communications vehicles. The strain of discerning language can take a major toll on cognitive function, as the brain is constantly processing information and the resulting cognitive load is affected, producing mental and physical exhaustion. Self-advocacy is critical and continuous for inclusion as we face moment-to-moment obstacles.

Those of us with these challenges have developed super-hero capabilities, as other senses heighten to compensate for the loss of diminished function. I have found ways to overcome and adapt to the challenges in communication and connection in the hearing world through visual and other sensory cues. One of the many ways I express myself is through visual artistry and writing. I have been told that I am a great listener! It is the upside of a hearing loss as I need to pay attention to each word being spoken, process the meaning and subtle references. I do not presume what a person is relaying or think ahead of what I want to contribute to a conversation, as many experiences in our fast-paced culture. My background as a yoga teacher and certified Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention™ specialist has given me the necessary tools to thrive with the challenges I face daily.

Helen Keller was once asked if she could regain one sense what would it be? She responded that it would be the sense of hearing as, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” Beyond the sounds of life that most rely on for safety and pleasure, such as birds chirping, the nuances of music – and oncoming traffic – are lost, the lack of discerning sounds can also cause physiological issues such as the loss of balance, neurological impacts, and disconnection to conversations in which relationships are formed. To adapt to hearing loss, it is known that the brain engages other areas besides the auditory centers to put the speech puzzles together to function in the hearing world.

I have taken an active interest to understand how the brain works in relationship to hearing loss and how the sound current affects one’s life.

Brain emPower™ addresses the new paradigm shift in brain health as established by leaders in the field of brain longevity. The curriculum is an experiential program based on fundamentals of dementia prevention as established by scientific research. The program offers evidence-based tools to reduce stress, cognitive load and improve overall brain function for wellness and vitality. It is uniquely developed to support the hearing-loss community, care partners, family and friends as well as anyone interested in improving cognitive function. The program combines principles and discussions of neuroscience with the mind/body connection. It was developed to focus on the hearing loss community who are committed to personally advocating for their own health. Care partners, family, friends, or anyone who is interested in learning and implementing techniques for healthy brain function and overall vitality will find the easy-to-practice tools included in the program helpful for stress reduction and overall wellness.

Three major sources of research form the basis of the Brain emPower program:

1) Johns Hopkins research studies indicated that hearing-impaired individuals are at higher risk for early brain dysfunction and potential dementia due to the lack of sound vibration to essential parts of the brain. Over time, and if one does not utilize hearing instrument support, the brain has been shown to atrophy due to the lack of neuro-pathway stimulation. This affects areas of the brain that control memory, balance, sound processing, and behavior often associated with dementia. Cognitive decline and hearing loss frequently occur in parallel. The brain has to work harder to attend to diminished hearing and may borrow cognitive tasks from other parts of the brain, especially memory. This reorganization may cause social deprivation and accelerate cognitive decline.

2) The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF) have researched the effectiveness of holistic approaches to Alzheimer’s disease for 25 years. This research revealed that a simple 12-minute meditation conducted over eight weeks, with clinically diagnosed AD patients significantly delayed the progression and symptoms of the disease in lieu of pharmaceutical methods that were shown to be ineffective. Dementia research is now focused on preventative measures for those concerned about cognitive loss through holistic methods and suggests that may be the key to brain longevity.

3) Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Biogen (2018-19) have stopped research and development into their current protocols that were focused on the abnormal accumulation of amyloid plaques and tangles that can lead to neurological damage and brain atrophy –hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Their protocol has proven to be ineffective or had disappointing results. The current focus is to address brain health with early lifestyle interventions including stress reduction, sleep habits, diet, and exercise.

Without interventions, including hearing aided technology for those with hearing loss, the reduction of cognition may lead to increased stress, loneliness, depression and potential complications relating to other health and safety issues for an individual.

My big idea that launched Brain emPower™ was, “what if there was a protocol to bring foundational practices via brain health professionals, to those who are beginning to be concerned about cognitive issues related to hearing loss?”

Brain emPower is designed to help restore cognitive function, providing proven techniques for brain longevity and empowering participants with resources for overall wellness, vitality, and stress reduction. The program’s foundation is based on my training as a certified specialist with the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation and augmented and confirmed by findings by thought leaders and research in brain longevity as well as my background as a yoga teacher and the science behind the ancient practices.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have been sole developer of the program from concept, material development, and outreach for the program. It has been well received by all I presented to. Recently, the course was conducted at the Age Well Center (AWC) Older Adult Services in Boulder, https://bouldercolorado.gov/older-adults and other opportunities were developing when COVID-19 halted all in-person meetings for the foreseeable future. I am currently working with the Age Well Center to continue the program with their online technologies.

Because computer acoustics are challenging for those with hearing loss, closed caption and visual cues are critical to facilitate communication on web-based platforms. Many of my clients may not be technically savvy. The AWC, in Boulder, has unique offerings to assist those who may be intimidated by online programs or technologies and help them become more astute with utilizing this much-needed form of communications as it is unclear if and when in-person classes will be offered in the future.

In addition, for those with hearing loss or aging, challenges with isolation and loneliness can become major health concerns even prior to our current pandemic lifestyle of staying-at-home and self-quarantining. Reaching out to those who are further isolated in these times is critical to ensure connection to the outside world so they do not become further deprived of human connection, which is critical for health and well being at any age. During this pause, and looking into the future, I am re-purposing the Brain emPower content to continue to reach this community as well as unique programs for care partners and leaders in assisted residential communities to offer this program to their residents.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Brain emPower – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Brain emPower targets older adults who may be experiencing isolation due to lifestyle changes exacerbated by hearing loss, retirement from careers, the current stay-at-home mandates, and unique aging experiences. While there are physicians and medical facilities that address one’s serious cognitive decline issues, the Brain emPower program is a first-step support that focuses on those who are beginning to recognize cognitive issues, particularly with hearing loss concerns and want to advocate for their own well-being through holistic methods.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Our community is aging and many factors and challenges are presenting to maintain vitality including ways to empower individuals to advocate for their own health and well-being. Brain emPower has been well received by audiologists, care partners, residential living facilities, and active retirement communities as well as independent individuals.

Although we are fortunate to live healthy lifestyles in Colorado, there are many opportunities to hone our wellness routines and find a community of like-minded support for one another. There are many social programs that offer emotional support to those with hearing loss and clinical dementia concerns. The Brain emPower program is offering a way for an individual and their families to integrate best-practices for a vibrant and engaged life and give tools for each person to advocate for their own well-being.

Sources:
Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF)
https://alzheimersprevention.org/

Pfizer discontinues Alzheimer’s R&D
(www.newsweek.com/alzheimers-parkinsons-tax-cuts-pfizer-research-780163 and https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.179/rpc.363.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/Biogen-Eisai-End-Two-Late-Stage-Trials-Alzheimers-Treatment.pdf

Johns Hopkins Research Studies
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-hidden-risks-of-hearing-loss
Age Well Center, Boulder https://bouldercolorado.gov/older-adults

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

My portrait image was taken by Dory Johnson, Olac Photography. As I am a certified Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention foundation specialist. Logo is www.alzheimersprevention.org

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