Skip to main content
You can click on the links below to quickly access specific parts of this page:
Episode 1: Senses Episode 2: Loneliness Episode 3: Cognitive Engagement Episode 4: Exercise Episode 5: Nutrition Episode 6: Brain-Health Resolution Episode 7: Air Pollution Episode 8: SleepEpisode 9: Keep it SimpleEpisode 10: StressEpisode 11: Caregiving


Defy Dementia Episode 1: Lightening the Load with Vision and Hearing

Welcome to the first episode of Defy Dementia! Join hosts Jay Ingram and Dr. Allison Sekuler as they provide essential insights on dementia, with a special focus on sensory loss as a key risk factor. Hear the inspiring stories of Laurie Harris, diagnosed with hearing loss at age 6, and Dr. Walter Wittich, an expert in vision and hearing loss who also cares for a loved one living with dementia. Through this exciting inaugural episode, we’ll empower you with knowledge and actionable steps to help safeguard your brain health, especially if you experience hearing or vision loss as you age.    


Key takeaways

  1. Hearing and vision changes are part of the normal aging process, BUT it's important to do something about these changes by getting glasses or hearing aids. Physical, social, and mental engagement all depend on your sensory abilities and will be easier with the right supports. 
  2. Sensory loss increases cognitive load - more effort is required to hear or see something, which makes it harder to do other things, like remember what you just heard or saw.
  3. It’s never too late (or too early!) to take action to prevent or correct age-related sensory loss.

Key highlights

Jay: "Dementia is actually a general term, not a specific disorder. Alzheimer's is one kind of dementia – by far the most common – but there are others, like fronto-temporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and vascular dementia. In each case, there’s a gradual breakdown of nerve cells – neurons – and the connections among them. Over time the brain gradually loses abilities like thinking, remembering, and reasoning."
Allison: "It’s projected that worldwide, by the year 2050, there will be at least 150 million people with dementia, including one million in Canada alone. But […] dementia is not just in our genes - in fact, the genetic variants that cause dementia have been identified in a relatively small number of people - so just because your grandma or grandpa had dementia, doesn’t mean you’ll get it."
Laurie: "Get into the audiologist, get a test, get a baseline on file, if nothing else, so that when you feel like maybe next year you've lost a little bit more, you can go back in and get tested in and you'll have some really good data on whether or not you have actually lost more hearing, or if there might be something else going on."

Walter: "I think that no matter what challenges have appeared or are to come for any of us, there is something you can do. There is a solution just around the corner. You have to be resilient, at times, to find it. This may not always be obvious, but we've been around long enough to know a lot of things about sensory and cognitive changes. We just need to push forward and find the thing you need that lets you live the best life you can live." 


Please click to enlarge



Learn more about our guests

Laurie Harris is a 58-year old British Columbian who works at an organization that sets older adults up with non-medical help, such as housekeeping, that would help them live at home longer. She was diagnosed with hearing loss at age 6 and began to wear hearing aids at age 24.  Several years ago, she took a leave of absence from her job because she says she was exhausted, in large part, from the cognitive load that was needed to process the speech of others while being hard of hearing. Since then she has become much more mindful about looking after her brain. She meditates and paces herself. She is also a caregiver, which is an added stress. Her husband is 22 years her senior and needs more and more help. She has returned to work and is managing a busy life. She is an optimist, but also rues not having more information from doctors and public sources about deafness and cognitive load earlier in her life.
Dr. Walter Wittich is an Associate Professor at the School of Optometry at the University of Montréal, in Québec, Canada. His research focuses on the rehabilitation of older adults with combined vision and hearing loss. His research domains include basic sensory science, as well as medical, psychosocial, and rehabilitation approaches to sensory loss. He is the inaugural chair of the Deafblind International Research Network, the 2020 recipient of the Canadian Helen Keller Centre 10th Annual JT Award, is a Fellow of both the American Academy of Optometry, and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and is Québec’s first Certified Low Vision Therapist. For the past 2 years, he and his husband have been care providers for his mother-in-law who lives with them with vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and the after-effects of a stroke from a year ago. He was a professional ballet dancer until age 30, then switched careers to be a researcher.