As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we connect 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 a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.
1. Unnecessary Hazard is Caused by Hearing Loss
In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (often a flashing light) in addition to being very loud, but most home alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of reduced 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 association with mental decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. 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 mental function.
3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss
Here’s a strong counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals who suffered from untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the situation. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is connected to other health problems including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. People who use hearing aids to address hearing loss 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
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help you assess the degree of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing evaluated on a regular basis can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.