Why You Should Watch 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: 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 many reasons: 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 simply changes to the inner ear.

But you can’t just dismiss the hearing impairment of an older friend or relative just because you knew it would happen. This is particularly true because you could simply begin to speak louder to compensate for the gradual hearing loss your loved one is developing. So you should take hearing loss seriously and have a talk with your loved one and here are four reasons why.

1. Hearing Troubles Can Cause Needless Risk

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms don’t usually have the flashing lights and other visual components that they have in a larger building. People who suffer from hearing impairment can lose other less extreme day-to-day cues as well: Getting a phone call, someone ringing the doorbell, or (and yes, we’re back in likely very hazardous territory here) car horns. A reduced ability to react to auditory cues can result in minor inconveniences or significant risks.

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

There is a statistically significant connection between age related hearing impairment and cognitive decline according to a large meta-study. What the connection 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 theory. Another prominent theory is that the brain needs to work extra hard to try to fill in the missing auditory stimulus that’s lost with hearing loss, leaving less resources for mental function.

3. Hearing Loss Can be Costly

If your family member is worried that treating hearing issues could be expensive, here’s a solid counterpoint: Neglected hearing loss can be costly to your finances for numerous reasons. For instance, 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 writers speculated that individuals with hearing loss might skip preventative care due to difficulty communicating and thus end up with a large bill because a major health issue wasn’t caught sooner. Hearing loss is also connected to mental decline and various health issues, as others have pointed out. Another point to think about: For individuals who haven’t retired, hearing loss is connected to reduced work productivity, potentially having an immediate impact on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Loss is Connected to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing problems. The anxiety and stress of not being able to hear others clearly will often cause withdrawal and isolation. Especially among elderly people, a lack of social ties is linked to negative mental (and physical) health repercussions. The good news: Social engagement will induce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Research from the National Council on Aging revealed that individuals with hearing problems who have hearing aids report reduced symptoms related to anxiety and depression and more frequently take part in social activities.

How to do Your Part

Communicate! We mean yes, talk to your loved one about hearing loss, and keep the conversation flowing. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by supplying a second set of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. Although the reasons are debated, research has shown that individuals over 70 under-report hearing loss. Secondly, encourage 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.

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.