As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are many reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.
But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Cause Unnecessary Risk
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less severe day-to-day cues also: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really 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 Mental Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. However, some researchers contend that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
If your loved one is concerned that treating hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a solid counter-argument: Untreated hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For instance, individuals who have ignored 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 skip preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health issues, as other individuals have noted. Another point to think about: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing issues. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause detachment and solitude. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental outcomes especially in the elderly. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help reduce 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 problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social activities.
How You Can Help
Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help you assess the level of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals over 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might be changing.