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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing loss. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to address it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Cause Needless Hazards

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (often a flashing light) along with being very loud, but the majority of home alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A diminished ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The process is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care expenses 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? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals with hearing loss may avoid preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental outcomes especially in older people. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Individuals who use hearing aids to manage hearing loss show fewer symptoms of depression and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How You Can Help

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Getting your hearing assessed regularly can help you understand 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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