You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly connected with aging is hearing loss. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause harm 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 loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. This is especially true because you may simply start to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.
1. Hearing Troubles Can Cause Needless Hazards
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can lose other less severe day-to-day cues also: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues
There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The process is debated, but the most common concept is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
If your loved one is worried that treating hearing problems could be costly, here’s a solid counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people who suffered from neglected 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 avoid preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus wind up with a large bill because a major health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Others point out that hearing loss is related to other health issues such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help reduce depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Individuals who wear hearing aids to manage hearing loss 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 flowing. This can help you determine the amount of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for providing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.