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

You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically connected with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments such as 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 normal changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. This is especially true because you may simply start to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Cause Unnecessary Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) in addition to being extremely loud, but the majority of home alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of reduced hearing.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Issues

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs 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 Expensive

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that people with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and various health issues, as others have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing troubles. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental outcomes particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People who wear hearing aids to address 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

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you determine the level of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding 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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