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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change commonly associated with aging is hearing loss. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), 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 just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it takes place slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of diminished hearing.

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

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with cognitive decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading theory is that the brain has to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

If your family member is worried that treating hearing problems could be costly, here’s a strong counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s writers proposed that individuals with hearing loss may skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and various health issues, as others have noted. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social engagement will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Individuals who use hearing aids to treat 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! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you determine the degree of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over the age of 70 who suffer with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. The next step is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Having your hearing assessed on a regular basis can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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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.