You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly connected with aging is hearing loss. This happens for many 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 example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just dismiss the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is developing. 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 Risk is Caused by Hearing Loss
In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when people have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.
3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss
Here’s a solid counterpoint to the idea 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 examined health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals who suffered from neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that individuals with hearing loss may skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.
4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Impairment
There can also be be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing decline. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social situations will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.
How You Can Help
Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.