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 get older, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing loss. There are numerous reasons why this happens: 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 instance, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just disregard the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would occur. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be subtle, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you may work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the TV. So you should be serious about hearing impairment and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (commonly a flashing light) as well as being very loud, but most household alarms don’t. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other everyday cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). A decreased 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

There is a statistically substantial connection between age related hearing impairment and mental decline according to a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when people have a hard time hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs 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. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, untreated hearing loss can hurt your wallet. As an example, people who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, 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 down the road. One of the study’s authors proposed that this was precisely the situation. Others point out that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, also. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will frequently cause detachment and solitude. Especially among elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social engagement will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. A study from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms connected with anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment 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. Even though the reasons are debated, research has revealed that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Getting your hearing checked regularly can help you understand 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.