Why You Should Monitor Your Aunt’s Hearing

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

As your loved ones get older, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or gray hair. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. This happens for many reasons: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing impairment isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be elusive, 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 you should take hearing impairment seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Issues Can Cause Unnecessary Risk

In a smaller house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual aspects that they have in a larger building. People 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 potentially really hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. Hearing impairment Has Been connected to an Increased Danger of Cognitive Decline

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the link exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a reduced level of engagement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading idea. Another leading theory is that the brain needs to work harder to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. The High Cost of Hearing Loss

If your family member is worried that addressing hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. As an example, individuals who have disregarded hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s writers speculated that individuals with hearing loss may avoid preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health problem wasn’t noticed earlier. Others suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems such as cognitive decline. Another point to consider: Your paycheck could be immediately affected, if you haven’t already retired, because of a decline in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Impairment is Connected to Depression

Trouble hearing can have emotional and mental health consequences, too. The inability to hear others distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is connected to negative physical and mental repercussions especially in the elderly. The good news: Social interaction will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing loss and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing difficulty who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently participate in social activities.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. 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 the age of 70 with hearing loss commonly under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. Secondly, motivate your friend or relative to have a consultation with us. Getting your hearing tested on a regular basis can help you grasp how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing impairment.

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