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

As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change generally connected with aging is hearing impairment. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should take hearing loss seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Loss

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (often a flashing light) in addition to being very loud, but most home alarms don’t. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues also: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of decreased hearing.

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

There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing loss and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work extra hard to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the situation. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is connected to other health issues such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social interaction will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you assess the degree of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that people older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to motivate the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing evaluated on a regular basis can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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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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