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

You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, 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 occurs: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Needless Risk is Caused by Hearing Impairment

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues too: Receiving a phone call, someone 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 decreased hearing.

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

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 reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. However, some researchers argue that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

If your family member is worried that dealing with hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counter-argument: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. As an 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 authors speculated that individuals with hearing loss might avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and various health issues, as other individuals have noted. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of 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 problems. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. Especially 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 decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. People who use hearing aids to treat hearing impairment show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How to do Your Part

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over the age of 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for providing a baseline and understanding 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.
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