Why You Should Monitor Your Aunt’s Hearing

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

As your loved ones age, you expect things like the need for glasses or stories about when they were your age or changing hair color. Another change generally associated with aging is hearing loss. There are many reasons why this happens: Some medications or medical treatments like chemotherapy that cause structural damage to the ear, exposure to loud sounds (this could be from loud concerts in your youth or on the job noises), or even natural changes to the inner ear.

But just because an older friend or relative’s hearing loss isn’t unexpected doesn’t mean it’s something you can disregard. Especially because age-related hearing trouble can be subtle, it happens slowly and over time, not suddenly and noticeably, you might work around it by simply speaking more clearly or turning up the volume. So here are four principal reasons you should take hearing loss seriously, and speak with your loved one about ways to handle it.

1. Needless Risk is Created by Hearing Impairment

In a small house, smoke and fire alarms usually don’t have the flashing lights and other visual elements that they have in a larger building. Fire is an extreme example, but hearing loss can cause sufferers to miss other day-to-day cues: A phone call, a doorbell, or a car horn (which can also be unsafe). A reduced ability to respond to auditory cues can lead to minor inconveniences or major risks.

2. There Can be an Increase in Cognitive Decline With Hearing Loss

There is a statistically substantial link between age related hearing loss 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 decreased level of involvement and less stimulation for the brain is a leading theory. However, some researchers claim that when we experience hearing loss, our brains work so much harder to process and comprehend sounds that other cognitive activities get fewer resources.

3. The High Price of Hearing Loss

If your family member is concerned that addressing hearing issues could be costly, here’s a strong counter-argument: Studies have shown that, for a number of reasons, untreated hearing loss can impact your wallet. For 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 might avoid preventative care because of trouble communicating and thus end up with a hefty bill because a significant health issue wasn’t noticed earlier. Other individuals suggest that hearing loss is related to other health problems including cognitive decline. Another point to consider: For people who haven’t retired, hearing loss is associated with decreased work productivity, potentially having a direct impact on your paycheck.

4. Hearing Impairment is Linked to Depression

There can also bo be mental and emotional health consequences that come with hearing issues. The inability to hear others clearly can lead to anxiety and stress and increase withdrawal and solitude. This isolation is related to negative physical and mental consequences especially in older people. The good news: Social interaction will produce less anxiety with treatment for hearing impairment and this will result in less depression. Individuals who use hearing aids to address 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! Keep the conversation about hearing impairment going with your family member. This can help you evaluate the level of hearing loss by providing a second pair of ears and it also furthers mental engagement. People over the age of 70 who suffer with hearing loss tend to under-report it, though the reasons why are presently debated. Secondly, motivate your friend or family member to come see us. Regular, professional hearing assessments are important for establishing a baseline and understanding 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.