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Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss seem obvious, including the frustration of the chronic battle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went further, and could actually impact your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time period. The researchers evaluated a number of physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.

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

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

The consequences of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can bring about social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies analyzing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that an absence of supportive 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 result in decreased physical activity, leading 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 bring about 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 makes people less inclined to be socially active?

The obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are talking simultaneously and where there is a large amount of background noise.

The perpetual battle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sensation 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 escape the difficulties of group communication and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation principally because of the trouble people have speaking 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 using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all cases of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group in advance, 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 little awareness, preparation, and the right technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.