You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing loss. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is especially true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.
1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Loss
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline
There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline according to 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 mental function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
If your loved one is worried that addressing hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the situation. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental outcomes particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social engagement will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. People who wear 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 to do Your Part
Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to come see us. Getting your hearing evaluated regularly can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.