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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change typically connected with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you may work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Caused by Hearing Loss

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A diminished ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Problems

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with cognitive decline and dementia. What the relationship exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another leading theory is that the brain needs to work extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that addressing hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that people who suffered from untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health issues such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate 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 anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental repercussions especially in the elderly. The good news: Social interaction will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social activities.

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 provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for providing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.

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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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