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

You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply 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 disregard. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Issues Can Produce Unnecessary Hazards

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. People who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues also: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Risk of Cognitive Issues

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 common theory is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, lowering their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers argue that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get less resources.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For example, people who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Others suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental consequences especially in the elderly. The good news: Dealing with hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. People who wear 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

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you evaluate the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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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.