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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just disregard the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would occur. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Unnecessary Hazards

In a small 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 impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues also: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very dangerous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common theory 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 harder to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your family member is worried that addressing hearing problems could be costly, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the scenario. Others point out that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause withdrawal and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social interaction will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing loss show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How You Can Help

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you evaluate the degree of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Having your hearing tested on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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