Why You Should Keep an Eye on Your Aunt’s Hearing

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 gray hair. Hearing loss is another change that we connect with aging. There are numerous reasons why this occurs: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply disregard the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a bigger building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) along with being extremely loud, but the majority of residential alarms don’t. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues also: Getting a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very dangerous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Issues

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 difficulty hearing, they withdraw socially, decreasing their general level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. Another leading 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 Costly

If your loved one is worried that treating hearing issues could be costly, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have found that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can impact your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that evaluated health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults found that people who suffered from untreated hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a hard time with communication causing them to skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was precisely the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and numerous health issues, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Loss 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 distinctly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. This isolation is linked to negative physical and mental outcomes particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social interaction will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. People 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 to do Your Part

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help you determine the amount of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over 70 with hearing impairment tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently disputed. The next step is to motivate the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you understand how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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.