You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t simply dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it takes place slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four major 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 Loss
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of decreased hearing.
2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with cognitive decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to 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 extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. As an example, individuals who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was exactly the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and various health issues, as others have noted. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.
4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Loss
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing decline. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social activities.
How to do Your Part
Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next move is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Getting your hearing assessed on a regular basis can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.