HAMNET Report 7th January 2024

Well, here we are on the first Sunday of 2024, and I’ll seize a final opportunity to say Happy New Year to you all. May your knowledge, experience and fun playing radio only increase this year!

I mentioned, half in passing last week, the Ladysmith floods of the Christmas weekend, and now discover that the death toll from those torrential rains has risen to 23. The authorities have apparently stopped their searches for missing persons as of Wednesday this week.

A hidden tragedy unfolds, as it does every year this time, in the Eastern Cape, where deaths during the initiation ceremonies at mostly unregistered initiation schools now stands at 34. One can perhaps understand that there is a tradition related to this ceremony, and we all know how important tradition is to all people, but surely there is a more reliable, safe and hygienic way to go through with this event every year, reducing the number of needless deaths, usually of recently matriculated young men? This is 2024, after all, and there are more hygienic ways to perform this ritual.

Japan seems to have stuck to its tradition of dealing its nation with dramatic natural disasters during the festive season, by delivering an earthquake of magnitude 7.6 on New Year’s morning, luckily on the northern coast of the main island. Fortunately there were no nuclear reactors on that stretch of Japanese coastline, but damage was severe, and the death toll on Friday evening stood at 94, with 200 people still unaccounted for. Damage to buildings has resulted in 32000 people being housed in temporary shelters, as rescuers scramble to move rubble and search for more survivors.

The quake was felt as far away as Tokyo, on the other coast of the main island, and would you believe it, my daughter had just got airborne out of Tokyo on her way to Hokkaido Island when the shaking started. I can assure you that this worried Dad was watching the newscasts very closely until he got news that she was safely on Hokkaido.

And an even huger disaster was averted when a passenger plane flying back to Tokyo from Sapporo airport, the very airport on Hokkaido my daughter had alighted at, struck a small plane on the runway at Tokyo, killing all its passengers, and then bursting in to flames.

Apparently, the crew of the passenger aircraft from Sapporo behaved most coolly, and safely evacuated all 400 people on the plane down the inflatable shutes, with no injuries to anybody. The fire was extinguished on the runway, and the country mourns the passing of the people on the light aircraft, who were actually on their way to assist with search and rescue operations at the quake’s epicenter. All in all, not a good start to the Japanese New Year!

Here’s some better news for us oldies with grey hair or no hair at all. In what seems to me to be an obvious correlation, a large team of medical researchers affiliated with several institutions in Denmark analysed data from a national health information database and found evidence that hearing aids could reduce the risk of developing dementia in older people with hearing difficulties. Their study is published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

Phys.org reports that prior research has suggested that there may be a link between hearing difficulties in older people and the development of dementia, suggesting that gradual hearing loss may be a risk factor for developing one of the many types of dementia. Scientists are still trying to understand the link better, but in the meantime, some in the field have begun to wonder if the use of hearing aids may slow or stop the onset of such diseases.

To learn more about this possibility, the research team turned to the Hearing Examinations in Southern Denmark database, which, as its name implies, is a database that monitors hearing issues in people living in southern parts of Denmark. It contains hearing data for approximately 573,088 people aged 50 years and older and was collected between the years 2003 and 2017.

In analysing the data, the researchers looked for associations between hearing loss and dementia. They found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did not use a hearing aid were 20% more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. They also found that older people experiencing hearing loss who did use a hearing aid had just a 6% chance of developing dementia, which was close to the average for ordinary people who did not experience hearing loss.

The researchers point out that their findings do not prove that the use of a hearing aid can prevent the onset of dementia, just that more study needs to done to find out if that is the case.

In other words, there is a connection between increasing hearing loss, and an increased likelihood of developing dementia if you don’t use a hearing aid, but the one does not necessarily cause the other. Correlation, but not causation!

It is a sad fact that many people who are becoming hard of hearing are resistant to the idea of wearing aids, mostly I suspect because it is an admission of progressive decline. A bigger problem actually, is the fact that hearing aids non-selectively amplify everything, making it difficult for one’s brain to focus in on the one conversation or audio input one is particularly interested in.

A person with hearing aids will tell you the aids are useless at a gathering or social occasion, because the general hub-bub makes appreciation of the important stuff impossible. However, I think that is not a good reason for not wearing aids. Wear the aids, avoid the parties, and allow your brain to continue to listen to what is important to you. Visual and auditory stimuli will keep your mind active, and prevent senile decay. Put the other way round, becoming hard of hearing cuts you off from society and the world more and more, and causes you to sink into a lonely existence

I for one can’t wait for AI to improve hearing aid technology to the point that one can cancel out general noise, and allow only the audio you are actually interested in, to get through. In the meantime, wear your headphones, switch on the ordinary noise cancelling, and enjoy your amateur radio!

Thanks to Phys.org for that report.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR, reminding you all to be willing to volunteer to assist your families and society in general in times of need, and reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.