Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss seem obvious, such as the frustration of the constant battle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went further, and could actually alter 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 measured a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency 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 general become less outgoing as they age, this study demonstrates that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The effects of social isolation

Diminished extraversion, which can result in 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 supporting social relationships was linked 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 decreased physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily obtained from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can result in social isolation

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

The most evident answer is the difficulty hearing loss can present in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it is often extremely difficult to follow conversations when several people are talking all at once and where there is a lot of background noise.

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

For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no big 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 leads to social isolation mainly due to the trouble people have communicating and participating in group settings. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, think about using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all cases of hearing loss, rendering the amplification necessary 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, 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 proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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