Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The consequences of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the chronic struggle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually modify your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this may be the case. The researchers examined 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers assessed several physical, mental, social, and personality criteria throughout the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social issues. The single factor that could be connected to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.

Although people in general become less outgoing as they age, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The consequences of social isolation

Reduced extraversion, which can trigger social isolation in the elderly, is a major 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 linked with increased mortality rates.

Social isolation is also 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 lack of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily received from group interaction and communication—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 inclined to be socially active?

The most apparent answer is the trouble hearing loss can present in group settings. For people with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking at the same time and where there is a good deal of background noise.

The sustained battle 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 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 individuals with hearing loss decide to avoid the difficulties of group communication and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation largely due to the trouble people have communicating and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these tips:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, consider utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all cases of hearing loss, delivering the amplification necessary to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with 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, 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, planning, and the proper technology, we can all make communication a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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