You Should Watch Your Aunt’s Hearing, This Is Why

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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow older: Gray hair, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or merely 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 problems can be subtle, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Loss

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual elements that larger buildings have. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of diminished hearing.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Decline

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with mental decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have difficulty hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading 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. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Untreated hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss may have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was exactly the scenario. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental outcomes particularly in older people. The good news: Social interaction will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Having your hearing tested regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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.