Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the continual battle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually alter your personality?

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

Interestingly, the researchers couldn’t connect the decrease in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social obstacles. The single factor that could be connected to the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.

Although people generally speaking become less outgoing as they age, 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 major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a shortage of supporting social relationships was correlated with increased mortality rates.

Additionally, social isolation is a major risk factor for mental illness, including the onset of major depression. Going out less can also lead to decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—normally received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can result in social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well developed, and hearing loss seems to be connected to decreased social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less disposed to be socially active?

The obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can present in groups. For those with hearing loss, it is often extremely difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at once and where there is a good deal of background noise.

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

For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no big surprise that many individuals with hearing loss decide to steer clear of the difficulties of group communication and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation principally because of the trouble people have communicating and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these guidelines:

  • If you have hearing loss, consider using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, rendering the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group beforehand, educating them about your hearing loss and advocating 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, planning, and the right technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.

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