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. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures within 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 neglect. This is especially true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Caused by Hearing Impairment

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (often a flashing light) as well as being extremely loud, but the majority of household alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Issues

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they retreat socially, lowering their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected 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 revealed that individuals with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People 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 authors speculated that this was precisely the situation. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. There’s a Connection Between Depression And Hearing Impairment

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing decline. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to unfavorable physical and mental consequences particularly in the elderly. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over the age of 70 who suffer with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might 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.