You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.
But you can’t just disregard the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.
1. Needless Risk is Caused by Hearing Impairment
In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (often a flashing light) in addition to being incredibly loud, but most residential alarms do not. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less severe day-to-day cues too: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of decreased hearing.
2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss
There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. The process is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they retreat socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.
3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss
Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for many reasons. For example, research from 2016 that examined health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people who suffered from untreated 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 skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the scenario. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and various health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.
4. Hearing Loss 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 distinctly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental repercussions especially in the elderly. The good news: Social engagement will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. People who wear hearing aids to manage hearing impairment show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.
How to do Your Part
Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over the age of 70 who suffer with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Having your hearing checked on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.