Why You Should Keep an Eye on Your Aunt’s Hearing

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

You expect certain things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing loss. This happens for numerous reasons: 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 natural changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So here are four primary reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Needless Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (often a flashing light) along with being very loud, but most household alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the outcome of decreased hearing.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Issues

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try and fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have found that, for many 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? One of the study’s authors speculated that people with hearing loss might avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health issues, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct impact on your paycheck.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The inability to hear people distinctly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental outcomes especially in the elderly. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.

How You Can Help

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People older than 70 who suffer with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. The next step is to encourage the individual with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Having your hearing examined on a regular basis can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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.