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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal 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 ignore. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it takes place slowly and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to deal with it.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Loss

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues too: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A diminished ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with mental decline and dementia. What the relationship exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that addressing hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Studies have found that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, people who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may skip preventative care due to trouble communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a major health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to 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 consequences that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental outcomes particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help relieve depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing impairment 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 impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next move is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for providing 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.