Woman communicating with her hands as she struggles to hear conversation.

You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing loss. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely 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 disregard. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it takes place slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Loss

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of decreased hearing.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers argue that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. As an example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health problems which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was precisely the situation. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social interaction will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. People who use hearing aids to treat 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! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. People over 70 with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.