As your loved ones get older, 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. This happens for numerous reasons: 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 kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would occur. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the progressive 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 deal with it.
1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues
A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with cognitive decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another leading theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try to 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 loved one is worried that dealing with hearing issues could be costly, here’s a solid counter-argument: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals with neglected 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 avoid preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a significant health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health problems, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase detachment and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. A study from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms connected with depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social activities.
How You Can Help
Talk! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People older than 70 with hearing impairment tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.