You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t simply ignore the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you may simply start to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Needless Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment
In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (commonly a flashing light) in addition to being extremely loud, but the majority of home alarms do not. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very hazardous territory here) car horns. 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 significant link between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs 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
Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Others point out that hearing loss is connected to other health problems including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is linked to reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase detachment and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. Research 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 take part in social activities.
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 assess the degree of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over 70 who suffer with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation 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 impairment.