Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss seem obvious, including the frustration of the continual struggle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went deeper, and could actually impact your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg indicates that this may be the case. The researchers studied 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers measured a number of physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

Unexpectedly, the researchers couldn’t associate the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The one factor that could be connected to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.

While people in general become less outgoing as they get older, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The effects of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can result in social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a lack of supporting social relationships was linked with increased mortality rates.

Additionally, social isolation is a major risk factor for mental illness, including the onset of major depression. Being less socially active can also result in decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can create social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss seems to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less likely to be socially active?

The obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking simultaneously and where there is a good deal of background noise.

The sustained battle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to abandon the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a feeling of solitude even if the person is physically part of a group.

For these reasons, among others, it’s no surprise that many individuals with hearing loss choose to avoid the difficulties of group communication and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss brings about social isolation mainly due to the trouble people have communicating and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:

  • If you have hearing loss, think about trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with the group beforehand, informing them about your hearing loss and recommending ways to make communication easier.
  • For those that know someone with hearing loss, attempt to make communication easier. Minimize background noise, find quiet areas for communication, and speak directly and clearly to the person with hearing loss.

With a little awareness, preparation, and the suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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