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. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are many reasons why this occurs: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural damage 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 loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing problems can be elusive, it happens slowly and over time, not abruptly and noticeably, you might work around it by just speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So you should take hearing loss seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Create Needless Risk

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that larger buildings have. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less severe day-to-day cues too: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely really dangerous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major challenges can be the result of decreased hearing.

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

A large meta-study found that age-related hearing loss had a statistically substantial association with cognitive decline and dementia. What the relationship exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a reduced level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. On the other hand, some researchers argue that when we suffer from hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and comprehend sounds that other cognitive tasks get less resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Expensive

Here’s a strong counterpoint to the concept that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. For example, individuals who have neglected hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? People with hearing loss may have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health issues which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers speculated that this was exactly the scenario. Hearing loss is also linked to mental decline and various health issues, as other individuals have noted. Another point to consider: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having a direct effect on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will often cause detachment and isolation. This isolation is linked to unfavorable physical and mental outcomes particularly in the elderly. The good news: Social situations will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. People who use hearing aids to treat hearing impairment 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

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation moving. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second set of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to come see us. Having your hearing evaluated regularly can help you learn 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.