Woman communicating with her hands as she struggles to hear conversation.

You expect specific 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 associate with aging. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural 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 dismiss. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, 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. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a smaller 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 an extreme illustration, 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 really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the outcome of reduced hearing.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, people who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was exactly the situation. Others point out that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental outcomes especially in the elderly. The good news: Social interaction will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Individuals 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! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you determine the level of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people older than 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Having 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.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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