Elderly man sitting on bed alone

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

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

Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t link the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social issues. The one factor that could be associated with the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.

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

The repercussions of social isolation

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

Social isolation is also a major risk factor for mental illness, including the onset of major depression. Being less socially active can also lead to reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily obtained from group interaction and dialogue—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 diminished social activity. The question is, 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 cause in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it is often extremely challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking at the same time and where there is a lot of background noise.

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

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

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation largely due to the trouble people have communicating and participating in group settings. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these tips:

  • If you have hearing loss, consider trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, delivering the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group ahead of time, educating 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, planning, and the proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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