You Should Watch Your Aunt’s Hearing, This Is Why

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

You expect specific 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. There are many reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments such as chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud noises (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 loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can dismiss. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (often a flashing light) along with being very loud, but most residential alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with mental decline and dementia. What the relationship exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. Another leading theory is that the brain needs 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. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

If your loved one is worried that dealing with hearing issues could be costly, here’s a strong counter-argument: Untreated hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For instance, research from 2016 that examined health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals with untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People with hearing loss may 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 down the road. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear others clearly can result in stress and anxiety and increase withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is connected to unfavorable physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with depression and anxiety and more frequently engage in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member 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) evaluating hearing. People over 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently debated. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for providing a baseline and understanding how their hearing might 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.