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

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 associated with aging is hearing loss. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Create Unnecessary Hazards

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues too: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of diminished hearing.

2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

If your family member is worried that treating hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the scenario. Others suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear others clearly 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: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over the age of 70 who suffer with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next move is to motivate the individual with hearing impairment to make 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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