As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would occur. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very dangerous territory here) car horns. A diminished ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant 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 disengage socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers contend that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
If your family member is concerned that addressing hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counter-argument: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that examined health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that people with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear others clearly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and isolation. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. People who wear hearing aids to manage hearing impairment show fewer symptoms of depression and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.
How to do Your Part
Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Though 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 assessments are essential for providing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.