Woman communicating with her hands as she struggles to hear conversation.

You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. This is particularly true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Needless Hazard is Caused by Hearing Impairment

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (typically a flashing light) along with being very loud, but most home alarms do not. People who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues also: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss

There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers argue that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

Here’s a strong counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals who suffered from neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was precisely the scenario. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Loss

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help relieve depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or relative to come see us. Getting your hearing assessed regularly can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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