The Eargym app can help to clear the noise, improve hearing and increase confidence in noisy environments.
Working as a barista in a noisy cafe, football ground or funfair sounds like the worst possible job for someone with dementia and hearing loss.
Just ask Pete Middleton. Customers come up to Pete, some in face masks and all with different accents, placing orders ranging from a mocha choca latte to an espresso with a croissant on the side.
Pete does his best and feels a sense of achievement when he gets the order correct.
In fact, Pete isn’t working as a barista at all. He’s playing a game on an app from Eargym – a company exploring the link between dementia and hearing loss, and how to improve millions of lives.
Hard to concentrate
Pete, whose young-onset dementia was diagnosed four years ago when he was 64, believes his hearing loss was partly the result of working on Harrier jets during his years in the RAF.
‘Like many with dementia and others, when I’m in a noisy situation it’s hard for me to concentrate,’ says Pete.
‘It’s difficult to focus on a conversation and understand it. I do a lot of nodding and saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” when I haven’t really heard what’s been said and I’m frantically trying to lipread.
‘I’m easily distracted – if I see a butterfly go past, I think, “Oh, look,” and I’ve forgotten what the conversation was about. I get anxious in loud, busy places.
‘In these ways, dementia can make you lonely. It “others” you. People treat you differently or feel sorry for you, which is the last thing you want.’
Simple and fun
The Eargym app provides simple hearing and cognition checks, along with games to improve hearing loss and concentration.
The app is for anyone concerned about their hearing, not only people with dementia or at risk of developing it.
‘It’s fun, and the graphics are welcoming, bright and easy,’ says Pete, who’s part of a panel providing feedback to the app’s creators.
The Society’s Accelerator Programme invests in innovations and is partnering with Eargym on this work.
Sonam Zamir, in our Innovation team, says, ‘Nothing like this exists already. We’ve been supporting Eargym to involve people affected by dementia in shaping and influencing the app’s development.
‘We’re excited to promote it and get it into the hands of people affected by dementia.’
Amanda Philpott, Eargym’s CEO, left her role as an NHS chief executive to start the business. She and her business partner, Andy Shanks, aim to have a significant impact on dementia risk and symptoms.
While establishing the company, Amanda and Andy both found they had moderate hearing loss.
Amanda’s father had refused to wear hearing aids for 30 years and now has Alzheimer’s, and she wondered if this might be part of a pattern.
‘Only 6% of people get their hearing tested in a given year,’ explains Amanda.
‘When they do recognise they have hearing loss, it takes them an average of 10 years to seek help.’
‘We ask people to train on our games, three times a week for about six minutes a go, on their own phone and with their own headphones,’ says Amanda.
‘In early testing, we’ve seen a 14% improvement in hearing in four weeks. After training on one of our games, 75% reported feeling more confident in noisy environments.’
As one user reported, ‘I’m in my 50s and starting to notice my hearing isn’t what it was, particularly with background noise at parties or busy roads.
‘Eargym is really boosting my hearing confidence in a range of situations.’
The ability to make sense of sounds and apply meaning to them – ‘auditory processing’ – is a vital aspect of hearing.
‘Studies have shown there’s a possibility of improving the core skill of understanding speech in background noise by up to 25%,’ says Amanda.
‘If we can help people improve their hearing by that sort of percentage, we hope to slow the rate of cognitive decline and, over time, reduce dementia.’
One of Eargym’s key messages is to get your hearing tested and wear aids when needed.
Amanda stresses, ‘People don’t like hearing aids because they fear looking frail or being perceived as old.
‘We want to raise awareness of the risks of not looking after your hearing, while contributing to the science about the link between hearing loss and dementia.’
How can you help?
£10 could help fund innovative products that will have a positive impact on the lives of people living with dementia.