You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically connected with aging is hearing loss. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds 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 impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual 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 handle it.
1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Impairment
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (commonly a flashing light) along with being very loud, but the majority of residential alarms do not. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues too: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with mental decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of engagement 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. The High Price of Hearing Loss
Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals who suffered from neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s writers speculated that individuals with hearing loss may skip preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and various health problems, as other individuals have noted. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear people clearly can result in stress and anxiety and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions particularly in older people. The good news: Social interaction will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. People who use hearing aids to treat hearing impairment 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
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help you assess the level of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. People over the age of 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next step is to motivate the person with hearing loss to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might be changing.