You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage 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 loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.
1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Loss
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the outcome of reduced hearing.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The process 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. On the other hand, some researchers argue that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
If your family member is worried that treating hearing issues could be costly, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people who suffered from untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s writers speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear others distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in older people. The good news: Social situations will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. People who use hearing aids to manage 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
Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member 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. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to motivate the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.