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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect 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 inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply disregard the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. This is especially true because you could simply start to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Issues Can Produce Needless Risk

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (commonly a flashing light) along with being very loud, but the majority of home alarms don’t. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues too: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of reduced hearing.

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

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. However, some researchers argue that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is concerned that treating hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s writers proposed that individuals who suffer with hearing loss might skip preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have noted. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing decline. The inability to hear people clearly can result in stress and anxiety and increase detachment and isolation. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions especially in the elderly. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing impairment show fewer symptoms of depression and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by providing 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 impairment. The next move is to encourage the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.

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