Why You Should Watch Your Aunt’s Hearing

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”. Another change generally connected with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just dismiss the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, it happens gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by just 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. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme 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 unsafe). A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and mental decline according to a large meta-study. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which results in a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for cognitive function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your family member is concerned that treating hearing issues could be costly, here’s a solid counter-argument: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and numerous health problems, as others have noted. 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 impairment.

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

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing decline. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental consequences especially in the elderly. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help relieve depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxiety-provoking. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms connected with depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social activities.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. 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 shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next move is to encourage the individual with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Getting your hearing checked regularly can help you grasp 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.