The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the continual struggle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went deeper, and could actually influence your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg shows that this may be the case. The researchers studied 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers measured a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria throughout the study, including extroversion, or the inclination to be outgoing.
Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The single factor that could be associated with the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.
While people usually become less outgoing as they age, this study demonstrates that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.
The repercussions of social isolation
Decreased extraversion, which can result in 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 a shortage 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 lead to reduced physical activity, leading 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 lead to social isolation
The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss seems to be linked to decreased social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that makes people less likely to be socially active?
The most obvious answer is the trouble hearing loss can present in groups. For people with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking at the same time and where there is a good deal of background noise.
The continual struggle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sensation of solitude 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 steer clear of the difficulties of group communication and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss leads to social isolation primarily due to the trouble people have speaking and participating in groups. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these tips:
- If you suffer from hearing loss, think about using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, talk to 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. Minimize 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 suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.