The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the frustration of the continual struggle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually influence your personality?
Research from the University of Gothenburg reveals that this might be the case. The researchers studied 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers assessed several physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.
Unexpectedly, the researchers couldn’t connect the decrease in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social obstacles. The one factor that could be linked to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.
While people in most cases 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
Reduced extraversion, which can result in social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a shortage of supportive 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 lead to decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—ordinarily 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 appears to be connected to decreased social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that makes people less disposed to be socially active?
The most evident answer is the trouble hearing loss can present in groups. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceptionally challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking at the same time and where there is a great deal of background noise.
The perpetual battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to go without the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a feeling of alienation 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 abstain from the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss brings about social isolation principally due to the difficulty people have speaking and participating in group settings. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these tips:
- If you have hearing loss, consider using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, presenting the amplification necessary to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
- If you have hearing loss, talk to the group beforehand, 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. 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 individuals with hearing loss.