Why You Should Monitor 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: Gray hair, needing glasses, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for many reasons: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud noises (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is experiencing. So you should take hearing impairment seriously and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Issues Can Create Needless Risk

In a large building, smoke or fire alarms have a visual aspect (typically a flashing light) along with being extremely loud, but most residential alarms don’t. Individuals who suffer from hearing impairment can miss other less severe day-to-day cues too: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really hazardous territory here) car horns. Minor inconveniences or even major dangers can be the outcome of diminished hearing.

2. Hearing Loss Has Been Linked to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Problems

A large meta-study discovered 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 people have difficulty hearing, they disengage socially, lowering their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. However, some researchers contend that when we suffer from hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

Here’s a solid counterpoint to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too costly: Studies have shown that, for numerous reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For example, research from 2016 that looked at health care costs for a sample of 55- to 64-year-old adults revealed that individuals with neglected hearing loss spent, on average, 33% more on doctor’s bills. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that individuals who suffer with hearing loss might avoid preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught earlier. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health issues including cognitive decline. Another point to think about: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.

4. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Impairment

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear people clearly can lead to stress and anxiety and increase detachment and isolation. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental outcomes especially in older people. The good news: Social situations will provoke less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will lead to less depression. Individuals who use hearing aids to manage hearing loss show fewer symptoms of depression and are more socially active according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your loved one. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by providing a second set of ears and it also furthers cognitive engagement. People over 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. The next move is to motivate the person with hearing impairment to make an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are important for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing may be changing.

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.

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