As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change typically connected with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for numerous reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural 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 happen. Particularly because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.
1. Hearing Problems Can Produce Needless Hazards
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues also: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the outcome of decreased hearing.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Problems
A large meta-study found 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 people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a solid counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for many reasons. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the situation. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause detachment and isolation. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social situations will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. Individuals who wear hearing aids to treat hearing impairment show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.
How You Can Help
Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People older than 70 who suffer with hearing impairment tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing tested regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.