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

You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply dismiss the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would occur. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So you should take hearing loss seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Create Needless Hazards

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (commonly a flashing light) as well as being very loud, but most residential alarms do not. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the result of decreased hearing.

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

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. What the link 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 theory. Another leading theory is that the brain has 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 Cost of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that dealing with hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. As an example, people who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that people 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 caught earlier. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear others clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions especially in the elderly. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. People who use hearing aids to treat hearing impairment show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How You Can Help

Talk! 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 pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to motivate the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for providing a baseline and learning how their hearing might 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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