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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 glasses or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change generally connected with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may 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. Hearing Troubles Can Create Needless Hazards

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (often a flashing light) as well as being incredibly loud, but the majority of home alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of reduced hearing.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and mental decline according to a large meta-study. The process is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers contend that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your family member is worried that dealing with hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have shown that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact 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 individuals with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was precisely the situation. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing problems. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause withdrawal and isolation. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. People who use hearing aids to address hearing loss 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

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you determine the degree of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Having your hearing evaluated on a regular basis can help you grasp 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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