You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are numerous 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 within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just 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 begin to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.
1. Hearing Issues Can Cause Unnecessary Hazards
In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. People who suffer from hearing loss can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of reduced hearing.
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 according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent 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 cognitive function.
3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly
Here’s a strong counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, individuals who have ignored 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 concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and various health issues, as other individuals have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.
4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression
Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The inability to hear others clearly can result in stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and solitude. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Individuals who wear hearing aids to address hearing impairment 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! 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) evaluating hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing assessed on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.