As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. 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 damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (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 simply disregard the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you may simply start 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 talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Produce Needless Risk
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. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can lose other less severe day-to-day cues too: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of diminished hearing.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Problems
A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a strong counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that looked at health care expenses 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? One of the study’s authors proposed that people who suffer with hearing loss might skip preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health issues, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear people clearly can result in stress and anxiety and increase detachment and solitude. Especially 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 minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. Individuals who wear hearing aids to manage hearing impairment 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
Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has revealed that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.