CHC presented the 2o13 Ruth R. Green Award in Advocacy to the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter. Ms. Lou-Ellen Barkan, President and CEO, accepted it on behalf of the organization and her colleagues. She did so with a speech that moved us, came full circle, and showed an unguarded side of this gifted advocate and seasoned executive. The audience at CHC’s Annual Meeting found her message fascinating. Here is her story via excerpts from her speech.

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On behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter, Lou Ellen Barkan accepted the 2013 Ruth R. Green Award in Advocacy from CHC.

At age 9, her mother grew alarmed at her “delinquency”…

Ms. Barkan: “I was nine when my mother noticed I often did not respond when she called me, and I didn’t always remember the things she was sure she told me. My mother thought I was overly independent and disobedient. Several tests and child psychologists later, it was confirmed that I was extremely independent and occasionally difficult. But I was never deliberately disobedient. I was diagnosed with hearing loss. For me, the ‘remedy’ consisted of instructions. ‘Never dive in the lake at camp.’ And for my parents, ‘Always face her when you speak to her.’ I learned that if you had a mustache, you would be hard for me to understand. But not much else was done. I only wish I had had CHC at that time.”

What if you’re in a boardroom AND you have a mustache?

Lou-Ellen Barkan has led the Alzheimer’s Association in NYC for a decade. Before that, she held senior executive positions at major financial institutions and was chief of staff to a deputy mayor under Giuliani.

Ms. Barkan: “Fortunately, I had learned to lipread rather well, and this was successful for 30 years. But then, as I advanced in my work on Wall Street, I learned that in a large boardroom I would have no idea what the gentleman across the room was talking about. I finally went and got my first hearing aid: at 46 years old. The aids were a godsend. Even with three declines in my hearing between then and now, revolutionary advances in technology have allowed me to adjust with minimal interference. People who tell you this is not possible are wrong.”

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The Alzheimer’s Association, NYC Chapter received CHC’s 2013 Ruth R. Green Award in Advocacy.

More on CHC’s partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association

In 2012, CHC visited the Alzheimer’s Association, NYC to exchange ideas and discuss ways to collaborate. What CHC learned was tremendously influential in the creation of CHC’s Center for Hearing and Aging.

Ms. Barkan: “Frankly, when CHC came to address our staff, I attended out of interest, courtesy and support, and some curiosity. I pretty much assumed I knew it all. Obviously, I was wrong.”

Group communication: the ultimate challenge with hearing loss

The Alzheimer’s Association provides direct care services, supports research, and conducts advocacy and awareness work. Support groups for individuals and families are an integral offering at the association’s New York City chapter.

Ms. Barkan: “I listened to our staff respond. We talked about how important it is for people not to talk over each other within the context of our support groups for people and families with Alzheimer’s. Understanding and addressing that dynamic in a support group could change the nature and way people receive help. I am not the only person, I found, who gets exhausted from listening all day. It’s extremely important to know that as hearing technology advances, there is an organization keeping track of what is available, and what works for people who are older and people who are young. It is precisely partnerships like ours that will make it possible for clients to receive the most timely and current information, which has the capacity to make life so much easier for them and their families at a time when it feels so hard. In my ten years as CEO of the New York City chapter, I have accepted on behalf of our fine organization many awards. Nothing has meant more than this award.”

A new service delivery model for hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease

CHC’s Center for Hearing and Aging addresses the link between untreated hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline. It’s possible that the relationship is causal for some people. We’re positive that when we treat hearing and cognitive health conditions or risks jointly (and sensitively), we can provide more effective care for seniors that makes for healthier, happier, and more independent later years.

Worlds collide

The Alzheimer’s Association’s vision is A world without Alzheimer’s. The Center for Hearing and Communication’s vision is A world without limits for people with hearing loss. We’re honored to work with the Alzheimer’s Association, an organization with compassion at its core and a mission-driven approach that we wholeheartedly embrace. Also present to accept the award were Jed A. Levine, Executive Vice President, Director of Programs and Services; Carol Berne, Senior Vice President of Development and Director of Leadership Giving; Matthew Kudish, Senior Vice President of Caregiver Services; and Karen Holland, Director of Volunteer Leadership and Development. The association staff and Ms. Lou-Ellen Barkan are outstanding advocates for people and families facing physical and emotional challenges that impact life quality, and are very deserving of recognition for the word they do.