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 gray hair. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing loss. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm 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 loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you may work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Cause Needless Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (commonly a flashing light) as well as being incredibly loud, but most home alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, 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 very hazardous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection 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 idea. Another leading 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 cognitive function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

If your loved one is worried that addressing hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counter-argument: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for many reasons. For instance, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the scenario. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing decline. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental consequences especially 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. A study from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for providing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.

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