As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this happens: 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 natural changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t simply ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would occur. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Create Needless Risk
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very dangerous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues
A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with cognitive decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work harder to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated 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 writers proposed that individuals with hearing loss might avoid preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and various health issues, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing problems. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. 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 wear hearing aids to treat hearing loss show fewer depression symptoms 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 loved one. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to motivate the individual with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for providing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.