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. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms 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 a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. This is especially true because you could simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Produce Unnecessary Risk

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less severe day-to-day cues also: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really hazardous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with mental decline and dementia. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have shown that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, individuals who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as others have pointed out. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear others clearly can result in anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. Particularly with 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 minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxious. People who use hearing aids to manage 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! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.

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