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 changing hair color. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are many reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause damage to structures within the ear (some kinds of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or merely changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t a surprise doesn’t mean it’s something you can neglect. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it takes place slowly 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 be serious about hearing loss and speak with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Risk is Caused by Hearing Impairment

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual elements that larger buildings have. Fire is a drastic illustration, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to lose other everyday cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be hazardous). Minor inconveniences or even major risks can be the outcome of diminished hearing.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing loss and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common theory is that when people have a hard time hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their overall level of involvement and failing to “exercise” their brains. On the other hand, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing impairment, our brains work so much harder to absorb and understand sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

If your family member is concerned that treating hearing problems could be expensive, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have found that, for a number of reasons, neglected hearing loss can hurt your wallet. For instance, 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 skip preventative care appointments and thereby missing major health problems which then leads to a larger medical bill down the road. One of the study’s writers proposed that this was exactly the situation. Hearing loss is also linked to cognitive decline and various health problems, as other individuals have pointed out. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be immediately impacted, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decline 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 decline. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others distinctly will frequently cause detachment and solitude. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental consequences especially in the elderly. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. People who use hearing aids to treat 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! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing impairment, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help provide a second set of ears (literally) assessing hearing. Though the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are essential for establishing a baseline and learning how their hearing might be changing.

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