The effects of hearing loss seem obvious, including the frustration of the chronic struggle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually change your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg indicates that this may be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers measured several physical, mental, social, and personality measures throughout the study, including extroversion, or the inclination to be outgoing.
Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The single factor that could be associated with the decrease 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 effects of social isolation
Decreased extraversion, which can trigger social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies analyzing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a lack of supporting social relationships was correlated 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, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—typically received from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.
How hearing loss can result in social isolation
The health effects of social isolation are well developed, and hearing loss appears 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 apparent answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking simultaneously and where there is a large amount of background noise.
The perpetual struggle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a feeling of solitude even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no surprise that many people with hearing loss decide to avoid the difficulties of group interaction and activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss brings about social isolation largely because of the difficulty people have speaking and participating in group settings. To render 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 practically all instances of hearing loss, delivering the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, talk to the group ahead of time, informing them about your hearing loss and promoting 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 little awareness, planning, and the right technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.