You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are many reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm 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 just dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would occur. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you may 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. Hearing Troubles Can Cause Unnecessary Risk
In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (often a flashing light) as well as being extremely loud, but the majority of household alarms do not. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline according to 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. On the other hand, some researchers contend that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as others have noted. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression
There can also be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing problems. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase detachment and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help relieve depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People 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 to do Your Part
Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.