Elderly man sitting on bed alone

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

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

Interestingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social issues. The single factor that could be associated with the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.

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

The consequences of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can bring on 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 linked with increased mortality rates.

Social isolation is also 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—ordinarily obtained from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can lead to social isolation

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

The most evident answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it can be extremely challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking all at one time and where there is a good deal of background noise.

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

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

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation mainly because of the difficulty people have speaking and participating in groups. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:

  • If you have hearing loss, consider trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, offering the amplification required to more easily 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, try 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 right technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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