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 get older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for numerous reasons: 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 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 happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues too: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the outcome of reduced hearing.

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

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with mental decline and dementia. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. 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. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Studies have shown that, for many reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, people who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then results in a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the situation. Others point out that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is related to unfavorable physical and mental consequences particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help relieve depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Having your hearing checked on a regular basis can help you learn 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.