The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the frustration of the continuous struggle 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 shows that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers evaluated a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.
Unexpectedly, the researchers couldn’t link the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social issues. The single factor that could be associated with 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 repercussions of social isolation
Reduced extraversion, which can result in social isolation in the elderly, is a major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies examining the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a lack 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—typically obtained from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.
How hearing loss can create social isolation
The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss seems 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 obvious answer is the trouble hearing loss can cause in groups. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at once and where there is a lot of background noise.
The continuous struggle 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 create a sense of separation even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no surprise that many individuals with hearing loss decide to avoid the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss leads to social isolation largely 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 tips:
- If you suffer from hearing loss, think about utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification necessary to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, talk to the group beforehand, informing 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 proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for those with hearing loss.