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

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

As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. 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 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 you can’t simply dismiss the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would occur. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place gradually and over time, not suddenly and dramatically, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to manage it.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Unnecessary Risk

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.

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

A large meta-study revealed that age-related hearing loss had a statistically significant connection with cognitive decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain has to work extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for many reasons. For example, people who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s writers speculated that people with hearing loss may skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus wind up with a hefty bill because a major health problem wasn’t caught sooner. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and numerous health problems, as other individuals have noted. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

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

There can also be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental repercussions particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently participate in social activities.

How to do Your Part

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing loss. The next step is to motivate the individual with hearing loss to schedule an appointment with us. Getting your hearing assessed regularly 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.