Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The consequences of hearing loss seem obvious, including the stress of the continual battle 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 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 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 connected to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.

While people commonly 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

Reduced extraversion, which can bring about social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a shortage of supportive 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 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 appears to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less disposed to be socially active?

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

The perpetual battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to go without the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sensation of seclusion 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 abstain from the difficulties of group interaction and activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation largely due to the difficulty people have speaking and participating in group settings. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, think about utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, creating the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with the group in advance, informing them about your hearing loss and suggesting ways to make communication easier.
  • For those that know someone with hearing loss, attempt to make communication easier. Limit 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 right technology, we can all make communication a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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