You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like 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 occur. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should be serious about hearing loss and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.
1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Impairment
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (typically a flashing light) along with being very loud, but most household alarms do not. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of diminished hearing.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues
There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. However, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept 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 evaluated health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals who suffered from 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 due to difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and numerous health issues, as others have pointed out. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.
4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression
There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and solitude. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with depression and anxiety and more frequently participate in social pursuits.
How You Can Help
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might be changing.