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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are many reasons why this occurs: 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 instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Loss

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with mental decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. However, some researchers claim that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid 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 authors speculated that this was exactly the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and various health issues, as other individuals have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing troubles. The inability to hear others distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental consequences especially in the elderly. The good news: Social engagement will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People older than 70 who suffer with hearing impairment tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing checked on a regular basis can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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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.