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”. Another change typically associated with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can ignore. This is especially true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to address it.

1. Unnecessary Hazard 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 larger buildings have. Fire is a drastic example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the result of diminished hearing.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Decline

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant association with mental decline and dementia. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that treating hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals who suffered from untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that individuals who suffer with hearing loss may avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health problem wasn’t caught earlier. Other individuals point out that hearing loss is related to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For those who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing decline. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental consequences especially in the elderly. The good news: Treating 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 individuals with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms associated with depression and anxiety and more frequently engage in social activities.

How to do Your Part

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 provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over 70 who suffer with hearing impairment tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. The next step is to encourage the person with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding how their hearing may be changing.

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.