As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just disregard the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would occur. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it takes place gradually and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four principal 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 large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (typically a flashing light) along with being very loud, but the majority of residential alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive 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 people have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, lowering their general 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 cognitive function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
If your family member is worried that treating hearing problems could be costly, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, people who have disregarded 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 might avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Others point out that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and solitude. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing loss 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 you determine the degree of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are essential for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.