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 get older: Hair changing colors, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), 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 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 especially true because you may simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. 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 Troubles Can Cause Unnecessary Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual component (often a flashing light) as well as being incredibly loud, but the majority of household alarms don’t. Fire is an extreme illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other day-to-day cues: A doorbell, a phone call, or a car horn (which can also be dangerous). Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the result of decreased hearing.

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

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

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

If your loved one is worried that treating hearing issues could be costly, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors speculated that people with hearing loss may avoid preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t noticed sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. And if all that’s not enough consider this: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. Especially with elderly people, a lack of social activity is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social engagement will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will lead to less depression. A study from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your loved one. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Having your hearing assessed 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.