The consequences of hearing loss seem obvious, such as the stress of the chronic battle to hear and the effect this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went further, and could actually influence your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this might be the case. The researchers studied 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time period. The researchers assessed a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.
Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t connect the decrease in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social obstacles. The single factor that could be associated with the decline 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 repercussions of social isolation
Reduced extraversion, which can result in 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.
Additionally, social isolation is a major risk factor for mental illness, including the onset of major depression. Going out less can also lead to decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—typically received 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 established, and hearing loss seems to be connected to diminished social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that makes people less disposed to be socially active?
The obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it is often extremely challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking all at once and where there is a great deal of background noise.
The continuous 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 sensation of isolation even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no big surprise that many people with hearing loss decide to abstain from the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss leads to social isolation largely due to the difficulty people have communicating and participating in group settings. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:
- If you have hearing loss, think about utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, delivering the amplification required to more easily interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, speak with the group beforehand, educating them about your hearing loss and suggesting ways to make communication easier.
- For those that know someone with hearing loss, try to make communication easier. Minimize background noise, find 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.