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

You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. This is especially true because you may simply start to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Loss

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (often a flashing light) along with being extremely loud, but most home alarms do not. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A diminished ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the relationship 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. On the other hand, some researchers argue that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a solid counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, people who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may avoid preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Impairment

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. Individuals who use hearing aids to treat hearing loss show fewer symptoms of depression 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 you determine the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or relative to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.

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