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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: 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 forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply ignore the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. Particularly because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (typically a flashing light) along with being incredibly loud, but most home alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic 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 very hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. What the relationship exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another leading theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try to 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 strong counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, 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 proposed that people who suffer with hearing loss might avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a major health problem wasn’t caught earlier. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health issues such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear people clearly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Social engagement will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. People who wear hearing aids to address hearing loss 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

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you determine the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People older than 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Getting your hearing assessed on a regular basis can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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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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