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. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing impairment. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (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 loss 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 be serious about hearing impairment and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Unnecessary Risk

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. People who suffer from hearing loss can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). A reduced 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

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when people have difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

If your family member is concerned that dealing with hearing problems could be costly, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that evaluated health care expenses for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? Individuals with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the scenario. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental consequences particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help relieve 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 difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People older than 70 who suffer with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or relative to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might be changing.

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