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 numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm 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 just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Particularly because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Produce Needless Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (commonly a flashing light) along with being incredibly loud, but most residential alarms don’t. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues too: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very dangerous territory here) car horns. A diminished ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. There Can be an Increase in Mental Decline With Hearing Loss

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with mental decline and dementia. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. 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. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that treating hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the situation. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

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

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing problems. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and solitude. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. People who wear 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

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that people older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to encourage the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.

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