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 connected with aging is hearing loss. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural damage 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 you can’t just disregard the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So you should be serious about hearing loss and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Needless Hazards

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

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another leading theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, people who have neglected 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 problems which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was exactly the scenario. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and numerous health issues, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct impact on your paycheck.

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

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing problems. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help reduce depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation moving. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Although the reasons are debated, research has revealed that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to come see us. Getting your hearing evaluated on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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