Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as 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 alter your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg shows that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers evaluated several physical, mental, social, and personality criteria throughout the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

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

Although people generally become less outgoing as they age, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The repercussions of social isolation

Diminished extraversion, which can bring about social isolation in the elderly, is a major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies analyzing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that an absence 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 result in reduced physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—normally obtained from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can create social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss appears to be linked to decreased social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that makes people less disposed to be socially active?

The most obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can present in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking simultaneously and where there is a great deal of background noise.

The sustained battle 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 create a feeling of separation even if the person is physically part of a group.

For these reasons, among others, it’s no big surprise that many individuals with hearing loss decide to pass up the difficulties of group interaction and activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss brings about social isolation largely because of the difficulty people have communicating and participating in group settings. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these guidelines:

  • If you have hearing loss, think about utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all cases of hearing loss, presenting the amplification required 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 suggesting ways to make communication easier.
  • For those that know someone with hearing loss, attempt to make communication easier. Minimize background noise, choose quiet areas for communication, and speak directly and clearly to the person with hearing loss.

With a bit of awareness, planning, and the proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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