The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the stress of the continual battle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually influence your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg shows that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals 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.
Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t link the decrease in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The one factor that could be connected to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.
Although 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 on social isolation in the elderly, is a significant 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. Being less socially active can also result in reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily received from group interaction and dialogue—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 decreased social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less likely to be socially active?
The most obvious answer is the trouble hearing loss can present in groups. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceedingly challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking at the same time and where there is a large amount of background noise.
The sustained battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to give up the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a feeling of seclusion even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no big surprise that many people with hearing loss choose to escape the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss causes social isolation primarily because of the trouble people have communicating and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:
- If you suffer from hearing loss, consider using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, furnishing the amplification required to more easily interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, speak with the group beforehand, 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. Limit 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 proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for those with hearing loss.