You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly connected with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for many 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 natural changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.
1. Unnecessary Hazard is Caused by Hearing Loss
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual elements that larger buildings have. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues also: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of reduced hearing.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The process is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, lowering their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
If your family member is concerned that treating hearing problems could be costly, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that people who suffered from neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression
Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental outcomes especially in older people. The good news: Social situations will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. Individuals who use hearing aids to address hearing loss show fewer depression symptoms 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 with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over 70 who suffer with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing evaluated regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.