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

You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change generally connected with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would occur. Particularly because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it happens gradually and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Loss

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A diminished ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.

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

There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. What the connection 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 theory. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work harder to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For example, individuals who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and numerous health issues, as other individuals have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing decline. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and solitude. This isolation is linked to unfavorable physical and mental consequences particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social engagement will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing loss 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

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Getting your hearing tested regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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