As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (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 impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. This is particularly true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.
1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Loss
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) as well as being extremely loud, but most household alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline
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 theory is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing impairment, 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 dealing with hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses 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? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may avoid preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t caught sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
There can also be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing decline. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to unfavorable physical and mental consequences particularly in older people. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. 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 to do Your Part
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.