You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), 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 just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. Particularly because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place slowly 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 talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Create Needless Risk
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of decreased hearing.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
Here’s a strong counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss might avoid preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a significant health problem wasn’t noticed earlier. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in older people. The good news: Social situations will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social activities.
How You Can Help
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Getting your hearing evaluated on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.