Woman communicating with her hands as she struggles to hear conversation.

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for numerous 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 impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Create Needless Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (commonly a flashing light) in addition to being incredibly loud, but most residential alarms do not. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of decreased hearing.

2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers claim that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health problems which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and various health problems, as other individuals have noted. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing troubles. The inability to hear others clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social engagement will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Individuals who wear hearing aids to treat 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

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you evaluate the degree of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to encourage the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

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