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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing loss. There are many 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 within the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you may simply start to speak louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should be serious about hearing loss and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Problems Can Cause Needless Risk

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues also: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

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

There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. For example, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that individuals with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss might skip preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus wind up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have noted. Another point to think about: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.

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

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear people clearly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you determine the level of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People older than 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing 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.