The effects of hearing loss seem obvious, such as the frustration of the constant 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 shows that this may be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers evaluated a number of physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.
Interestingly, the researchers couldn’t connect the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social obstacles. The one factor that could be linked to the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.
While people typically become less outgoing as they get older, this study demonstrates that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.
The consequences of social isolation
Reduced extraversion, which can bring about 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 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. Going out less can also result in reduced physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—typically obtained from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.
How hearing loss can trigger social isolation
The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss appears to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that makes people less inclined to be socially active?
The most obvious answer is the trouble hearing loss can present in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking simultaneously and where there is a good deal of background noise.
The continual battle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a sensation of seclusion even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, among others, it’s no surprise that many people with hearing loss choose to pass up the difficulties of group communication and activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss triggers social isolation primarily because of the trouble people have speaking and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these guidelines:
- If you suffer from hearing loss, think about using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all cases 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, 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 bit of awareness, planning, and the proper technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.