As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply 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 disregard. This is especially true because you may simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (commonly a flashing light) as well as being incredibly loud, but the majority of residential alarms do not. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less severe day-to-day cues also: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, lowering their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
If your family member is worried that treating hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, people 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 who suffer with hearing loss might avoid preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught sooner. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health problems, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing problems. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. People who use hearing aids to address hearing impairment show fewer symptoms of depression 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 loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to encourage the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for providing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.