According to a recently released study by Statistics Canada, people who are socially isolated are more likely to experience a poor quality of life, morbidity and mortality. Loss of hearing has a big part to play in creating that feeling of isolation, particularly for women. Tax and financial advisors can directly help address the issues with some year-end tax planning.
The StatsCan study, by Pamela L. Ramage-Morin, points to some surprising findings based on the 2012-13 year:
- About 4.5 million or 19% of all adults had some hearing loss in the range associated with normal speech.
- About 8.4 million or 35% had high-frequency hearing loss, which is often related to aging.
- But when people reach the ages 70 to 79, 65% experienced loss in the speech frequency range, and an astounding 94% had some high-frequency hearing loss.
What is common with seniors who are experiencing this problem, however, is that there is a lot of denial. Only 4%, or fewer than a million people, actually report hearing difficulties despite suffering daily with the affliction. Fully 88% of people with hearing loss don’t use hearing aids. Amongst the reasons for this are the cost of the devices and the belief that they are not needed. But there are other life events that can get in the way, too.
The study explains that the baby boom generation is at greater risk of social isolation than previous generations as many live alone, perhaps have never married and have fewer children. And other age-related issues can disrupt their social networks: retirement, changes in social contacts, caregiving duties, other health-related changes, the lack of transportation or ability to drive, the stress of the death of a loved one, and moves to alternative living arrangements. Those changes may, in fact, make it more difficult and improbable for the hearing loss sufferer to seek help.
Professional financial advisors can be proactive here. They can bring up the subject of medical expenses and explain that the costs of hearing aids and batteries can be minimized by claiming them on the tax return.
In addition, severe hearing impairments that markedly restrict daily living activities may lead to eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit, which is a non-refundable tax credit of $8001 in 2016. To be eligible for the credit, the experience of the sufferer must be such that, even with corrective devices, he or she is unable, or takes an inordinate amount of time, to hear so as to understand another person familiar with the patient, in a quiet setting; and this is the case all or substantially all of the time (at least 90% of the time). If this is an issue for a client or their family member, advisors can suggest that form T2201 be filled out by a doctor to verify the condition.
In the future, research and technology can help with the issue. Teletypewriter services, improved telephone features and personal computing devices that facilitate email and texting all can help, says the study. However, the cost factor still remains.
Using the available provisions under the tax system as a way to mitigate these costs is important; so are the soft skills an advisor has to recognize the problem and discuss it with clients, with professionalism, guidance and insight.