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Hearing loss, cognitive decline and your parent's care plan: 5 FAQs

Even if it seems innocuous at first, untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline and other problems. These problems all have implications for daily living and the care arrangements that may be reflected in an estate plan.

If your aging mom or dad is starting to struggle with hearing, it's time to listen up - in the sense of pay close attention to - information that will help you respond to the situation.

Here are some basic questions and answers to get you started.

How common is hearing loss?

The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly half of people over the age of 75 have trouble with hearing. And for some people, the problem starts even earlier. Among adults from ages 65 to 74, about 1 in 3 have hearing loss.

Is there a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline?

Research has shown that one of the risk factors for cogntive decline may be age-related hearing loss. To be sure, there are other factors, such as age itself, high blood pressure and living alone. But there are indications in research studies that untreated hearing loss may contribute to dementia.

The reason for this was articulated well by a British researcher named Gurleen Popli who co-authored a study of it. "Not correcting for hearing loss results in social isolation which in turn results in us not utilizing many of our neural networks in the brain on a regular basis," Popli told Reuters.

How well can hearing aids compensate for hearing loss?

Different people of course have different experiences with hearing aids. It can be difficult to find a model that works right for a particular person.

There is research to suggest, however, that identifying and treating hearing loss as early as possible is important because it can help to prevent cognitive impairment and social isolation.

How do you go about deciding on which type of hearing aid is best for your or the person you are assisting with the choice?

Choosing a hearing aid involves a set of choices among different styles and prices.

For some people in the U.S., cost is an issue. Even people with good health insurance often have to pay out of pocket for hearing aids - sometimes many thousands of dollars.

There are also many different types of hearing aids to choose from. These can range from in-the-canal (ITC) to in-the-ear (ITE) and behind-the-ear (BTE) models.

What does an audiologist do?

If you aren't sure about how to address hearing loss, a good place to get started is with a referral to an audiologist. You can ask your primary care physician for such a referral. The audiologist will be able to make a hearing assessment that will help to frame your choices for the type of hearing aid to consider.

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