The consequences of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the constant 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 reveals that this may be the case. The researchers studied 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers evaluated several physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.
Unexpectedly, the researchers couldn’t connect the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The one factor that could be connected to the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.
While people in most cases become less outgoing as they get older, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.
The consequences of social isolation
Diminished extraversion, which can lead to 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 an absence 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. Being less socially active can also lead to decreased physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—normally obtained 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 connected to decreased 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 trouble hearing loss can cause in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at once and where there is a large amount of background noise.
The perpetual battle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to go without 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, amongst others, it’s no surprise that many people with hearing loss decide to steer clear of the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss causes social isolation primarily due to the difficulty people have communicating and participating in group settings. To make 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 virtually all cases of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, talk to the group in advance, educating 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. 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 proper technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.