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

You expect certain things as your loved ones grow 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. This happens for numerous reasons: Exposure to loud sounds (whether job-related or from going to rock concerts when younger), medications that cause harm to structures within the ear (some forms of chemotherapy, for example, have this side effect), or simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t simply ignore the hearing loss of an older friend or relative just because you expected it would happen. This is particularly true because you could simply start to talk louder to compensate for the progressive hearing loss your loved one is going through. So you should take hearing loss seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Problems Can Create Unnecessary Risk

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. People who suffer from hearing loss can miss other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: Receiving a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in potentially really dangerous territory here) car horns. A decreased ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing impairment and mental decline as reported by a large meta-study. What the connection exactly is, is debated, but withdrawal from social activity which leads to a decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. 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. 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 impact your finances for many reasons. For example, people who have ignored hearing loss had, on average, a 33% higher medical cost, according to a 2016 study. Why? People who suffer with hearing loss might have a difficult time with communication causing them to avoid preventative care appointments and thereby missing significant health issues which then results in 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 numerous health issues, as others have noted. Another point to think about: Your paycheck could be directly affected, if you haven’t already retired, due to a decrease in productivity caused by hearing impairment.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

Difficulty hearing can have emotional and mental health repercussions, too. The inability to hear people distinctly can result in anxiety and stress and increase detachment and solitude. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental consequences particularly in older people. The good news: Managing hearing loss can potentially help minimize depression, partly because being able to hear makes social situations less anxious. A study from the National Council on Aging found that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report fewer symptoms related to depression and anxiety and more frequently take part in social activities.

How You Can Help

Talk! Keep the conversation about hearing loss going with your family member. This can help you assess the amount of hearing loss by supplying a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that people over 70 under-report hearing impairment. Secondly, encourage your friend or family member to have a consultation with us. Having your hearing assessed regularly can help you learn how your hearing is changing and can establish a baseline of your current hearing loss.

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