You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change commonly connected with aging is hearing impairment. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t simply disregard the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.
1. Hearing Issues Can Cause Unnecessary Hazards
In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (typically a flashing light) as well as being very loud, but the majority of residential alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A decreased ability to respond 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. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, lowering their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.
3. The High Price of Hearing Loss
If your family member is concerned that treating hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have shown that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that looked at health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people who suffered from neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the scenario. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help reduce depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social activities.
How You Can Help
Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.