You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just disregard the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you may work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.
1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) as well as being extremely loud, but most home alarms don’t. People who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less severe day-to-day cues also: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Problems
A large meta-study revealed 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 results in a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive
Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt 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 with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the scenario. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as others have noted. Another point to consider: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The inability to hear people clearly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. Especially among elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Social engagement will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently engage in social activities.
How to do Your Part
Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you evaluate the degree of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.