Blog 41: Comprehension (Pt 1)

Bill had two ways of understanding what was going on in the world around him.  The first was through interpretation of spoken language and the second was through context.  I will deal with spoken language in this BLOG and context in the next.

You have seen how, when the second ACAT was conducted (c.f., BLOG 33), I had to urge Bill several times to:   Sit down here, Dear!  That was because it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and Bill was tired and probably not even hearing my words, let alone comprehending them.

I remember when it started, this inability to comprehend what was being said.  It was probably as far back as 2008.  People had to repeat their sentences for Bill, twice or sometimes three times before he would get the message and he often found it impossible to understand what a young, female voice on the phone was saying.

We put it down to problems with hearing and went along to the audiologist.  The audiologist found that Bill had average hearing in the medium range, no hearing in the high range and 50% hearing loss in the low range.  He ordered hearing aids for Bill but, because the medium range of his hearing was all right, Bill found it difficult to use them.  When they worked to help him hear high sounds, they caused him problems with the medium range.  They rang and squealed and whistled in his ears and, eventually, ended up in a drawer.  They are still there.

But, looking back, I understand that, though there was, most certainly, a hearing factor in Bill’s problems with comprehension, there was, as well, another element that no one was picking up.  The receptor part of Bill’s brain, that part that receives the spoken word and translates it into meaning for us, was shutting down.

By 2011, Bill’s ability to comprehend the spoken word had declined to a rating of very poor.  Mostly, it was not worth the effort of trying to explain what was going to happen or what had been said on the phone.  The battle of trying to understand, with that receptor massively under performing, was too much for him.

But, sometimes, if you spoke to him in the morning when his brain was fresh, he would surprise you.  One such time occurred in March, when I said to him:

“Matthew is in hospital!”

“Oh,” he answered.  “Is he getting better?”

“No!” I replied, sadly.  “They don’t know what is wrong with him.”

“Oh!” he choked …. And he started to cry.

On another occasion, when I updated him with the words:

“People are coming tonight.”

He answered:  “Is that so?  I just want to go to bed.  Don’t want to hang around.”

And when our friends were visiting and Bill and Clive were carrying cups of coffee on side plates into our dining room, Bill looked at Clive and muttered:

“It’s hard work, isn’t it?

“Sure is!”  Clive answered, in amazement.

Conversations like that, however, were few and far between and became fewer and fewer as the year went on.  By June 2011, Bill had lost most of his ability to comprehend the spoken word or to communicate through its use.

“I think there should be sumpa, humpa, humpa,” he would say.


“See it on the edge of the pelissy, pelissy there.”


“Hurry, curry, curry, curry!”

Though, by that time, his language was gone and it was a useless exercise, Bill was still making every effort to communicate using the spoken word.  And it didn’t matter that he was speaking in an unknown language or that he could barely comprehend English any more.  He was still making contact, still reaching out, and that was all that mattered.

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