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

As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. 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 kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. Particularly because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might 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. Hearing Problems Can Create Needless Risk

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of diminished hearing.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when people have difficulty hearing, they retreat socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

If your family member is concerned that dealing with hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that people with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health problems which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

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

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing issues. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause detachment and solitude. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social situations will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to come see us. Having your hearing tested regularly can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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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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