Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The negative effects of hearing loss seem obvious, including the frustration of the constant struggle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went further, and could actually impact 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 period. The researchers assessed several physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the reduction in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social issues. The one factor that could be linked to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.

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

The consequences of social isolation

Reduced extraversion, which can lead to social isolation in the elderly, is a major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies evaluating the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that an absence of supporting social relationships was correlated 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 lead to reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—typically received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can lead to social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss seems to be connected to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly 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 present in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking all at once and where there is a good deal of background noise.

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

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

What can be done?

Hearing loss triggers social isolation largely 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, think about trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, providing the amplification required to more effortlessly 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, try 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 a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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