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

You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly connected with aging is hearing impairment. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as 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 normal changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. This is especially true because you could simply start to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Produce Unnecessary Hazards

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (often a flashing light) as well as being extremely loud, but the majority of household alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the result of decreased hearing.

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

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept 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 extra hard 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

If your family member is worried that addressing hearing problems could be costly, here’s a strong counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for numerous 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 revealed that individuals with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s writers speculated that people with hearing loss may avoid preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a significant health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to consider: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct impact on your paycheck.

4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Loss

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. A study from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. The next step is to encourage the person with hearing loss to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for providing a baseline and understanding 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.