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. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for many 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 just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Create Unnecessary Hazards
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A diminished ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
If your loved one is worried that dealing with hearing issues could be costly, here’s a solid counter-argument: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For instance, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that people who suffer with hearing loss might avoid preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a significant health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.
4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Loss
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause detachment and isolation. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. Individuals who wear hearing aids to address hearing loss 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 degree of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Getting your hearing examined on a regular basis can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.