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

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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments like 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 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 neglect. This is especially true because you may simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Issues Can Cause Needless Hazards

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (commonly a flashing light) in addition to being very loud, but most residential alarms do not. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the result of reduced hearing.

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

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when individuals have difficulty hearing, they disengage socially, lowering their overall level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent 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

If your loved one is concerned that dealing with hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can impact your finances for numerous reasons. For example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health concerns which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Others point out that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. 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 anxious. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People older than 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next step is to motivate the person with hearing loss to make an appointment with us. Having your hearing assessed regularly 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.