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

As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for bifocals or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments such as 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 you can’t simply dismiss the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place gradually and over time, not abruptly and dramatically, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four major reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to deal with it.

1. Needless Hazard is Created by Hearing Loss

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual element (commonly a flashing light) in addition to being incredibly loud, but the majority of residential alarms don’t. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues also: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very dangerous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

A large meta-study discovered that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial connection with mental decline and dementia. The process is debated, but the most prevalent concept is that when people have a hard time hearing, they disengage socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, 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 Costly

Here’s a solid counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have found that, for many reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? Individuals who suffer with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then results in a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s authors speculated that this was exactly the situation. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be directly impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing troubles. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and solitude. Particularly with elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health consequences. The good news: Social situations will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. A study from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently engage in social pursuits.

How You Can Help

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation moving. This can help you determine the amount of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has revealed that people over 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.

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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.