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. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, 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 expected it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it happens gradually and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Hearing Troubles Can Cause Needless Hazards
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the result of reduced hearing.
2. Hearing impairment Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Problems
A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading 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 mental function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For example, people who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and various health issues, as other individuals have noted. Another point to consider: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause detachment and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. Individuals who use hearing aids to treat hearing impairment 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
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next move is to encourage the individual with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.