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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. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are many reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. 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 principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Loss

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (typically a flashing light) as well as being incredibly loud, but most residential alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of decreased hearing.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Problems

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with mental decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when people have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. As an example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the scenario. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and numerous health issues, as others have noted. 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 impairment.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health outcomes. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next move is to motivate the individual with hearing loss to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.

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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.