You Should Watch Your Aunt’s Hearing, Here’s Why

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

You expect specific things as your loved ones grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change typically connected with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply 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. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and talk to your loved one about ways to deal with it.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Produce Needless Hazards

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (typically a flashing light) along with being incredibly loud, but most household alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of reduced hearing.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that dealing with hearing problems could be costly, here’s a strong counterpoint: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, people who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill in the future. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was precisely the scenario. Others point out that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough think about this: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.

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

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear others distinctly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and isolation. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social engagement is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social interaction will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing difficulties who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently engage in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help with cognitive engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) assessing hearing. People over the age of 70 with hearing impairment commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are currently disputed. The next step is to encourage the person with hearing loss to schedule an appointment with us. Getting your hearing tested on a regular basis can help you grasp 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.