The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the frustration of the continual struggle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went further, and could actually impact your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg indicates 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 inclination to be outgoing.
Interestingly, the researchers couldn’t connect the decrease in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social obstacles. The one factor that could be connected to 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 consequences of social isolation
Reduced extraversion, which can lead to social isolation in the elderly, is a major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies evaluating the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that an absence 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. Being less socially active can also result in decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily obtained from group interaction and communication—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 connected to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less likely to be socially active?
The most apparent answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in groups. For people with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking simultaneously and where there is a lot of background noise.
The sustained struggle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to abandon the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a feeling of isolation even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, among others, it’s no surprise that many people with hearing loss decide to escape the difficulties of group interaction and activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss triggers social isolation primarily due to the difficulty people have speaking and participating in groups. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these tips:
- If you have hearing loss, consider using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, presenting the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, speak with the group ahead of time, educating them about your hearing loss and recommending 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, planning, and the suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.