The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the frustration of the chronic struggle to hear and the impact 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 may be the case. The researchers studied 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers measured a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.
Interestingly, the researchers couldn’t connect the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The one factor that could be linked to the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.
Although people usually become less outgoing as they age, this study demonstrates that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.
The effects of social isolation
Diminished 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 shortage 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 reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—normally 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 decreased 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 present in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are talking simultaneously and where there is a large amount of background noise.
The sustained battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to give up the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sensation of alienation even if the person is physically part of a group.
For these reasons, among others, it’s no big surprise that many people with hearing loss choose to avoid the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.
What can be done?
Hearing loss causes social isolation largely because of the difficulty people have speaking and participating in groups. To make 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, furnishing 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 suggesting ways to make communication easier.
- For those that know someone with hearing loss, attempt to make communication easier. Limit background noise, find quiet areas for communication, and speak directly and clearly to the person with hearing loss.
With a bit of awareness, preparation, and the suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.