Why You Should Monitor Your Aunt’s Hearing

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

You expect specific things as your loved ones get older: Hair changing colors, the need for bifocals, stories about “When I was your age”. Hearing loss is another change that we associate with aging. There are numerous reasons why this happens: Exposure to loud noises (whether job-related or from a youth spent at rock concerts), medications that cause harm to structures inside of the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for instance, have this side effect), or simply 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 ignore. This is particularly true because you may simply begin to talk louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should be serious about hearing loss and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Unnecessary Hazard is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. Individuals who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: Receiving a phone call, a delivery person ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially very hazardous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. The mechanism is debated, but the most common concept is that when people have difficulty hearing, they retreat socially, decreasing their general level of engagement and failing to “exercise” their brains. 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 cognitive function.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

Here’s a strong counter-argument to the idea that getting treatment for hearing loss is too expensive: Untreated hearing loss can be costly to your finances for many reasons. As an example, individuals who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical expense, according to a 2016 study. Why? One of the study’s authors proposed that people with hearing loss might skip preventative care because of difficulty communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t caught sooner. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is connected to other health problems such as cognitive decline. 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. There’s a Link Between Depression And Hearing Loss

There can also bo be mental and emotional health repercussions that come with hearing issues. The stress and anxiety of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause detachment and isolation. Particularly among elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Treating hearing loss can potentially help decrease depression, partly because being able to hear makes social engagement less anxiety-provoking. People who use hearing aids to manage hearing impairment 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

Talk! We mean yes, talk to your family member about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help with mental engagement, and it can also help supply a second pair of ears (literally) evaluating hearing. Even though the reasons are debated, research has demonstrated that individuals older than 70 under-report hearing impairment. The next step is to encourage the person with hearing impairment to schedule an appointment with us. Regular, professional hearing exams are essential for establishing a baseline and understanding 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.