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Elderly man sitting on bed alone

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

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

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

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

The repercussions of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can bring about 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 lack of supportive 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 reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—typically received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can bring about social isolation

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

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

The sustained struggle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo 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 big surprise that many individuals with hearing loss decide to abstain from the difficulties of group communication and activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss causes social isolation primarily due to the difficulty people have communicating and participating in group settings. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these guidelines:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, consider using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, offering 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 advocating 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 suitable technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.