You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, 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: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply 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 disregard. This is especially true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So you should be serious about hearing loss and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.
1. Hearing Problems Can Cause Unnecessary Risk
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of reduced 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 significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most common theory is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers argue that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.
3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss
Here’s a strong counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing troubles. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Social situations will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Individuals who use hearing aids to treat hearing loss 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
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over 70 who suffer with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Getting your hearing checked on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.