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 grow older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing impairment. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural harm to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even normal changes to the inner ear.

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

1. Hearing Problems Can Cause Unnecessary Hazards

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) along with being extremely loud, but most household alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: Receiving a phone call, someone 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. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Decline

There is a statistically significant link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most prevalent theory is that when individuals have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Having said that, some researchers contend that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get fewer resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, research from 2016 that looked at health care expenses 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 difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the situation. Hearing loss is also connected to cognitive decline and numerous health issues, as others have pointed out. And if all that’s not enough consider this: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing loss.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, also. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help alleviate depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. Individuals who wear hearing aids to manage hearing loss show fewer depression symptoms and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. People older than 70 who suffer with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing exams 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. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.