You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for numerous 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 just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens gradually and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to handle it.
1. Hearing Troubles Can Create Unnecessary Risk
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. People who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues too: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A diminished ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. Hearing impairment Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Problems
A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when people have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their general 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 absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive
Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses 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 hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the situation. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing problems. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause withdrawal and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help reduce depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently participate in social pursuits.
How You Can Help
Talk! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you determine the amount of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, encourage your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Getting your hearing tested on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.