Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the constant struggle to hear and the impact 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 might be the case. The researchers studied 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers evaluated a number of physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the inclination to be outgoing.

Unexpectedly, the researchers couldn’t link the decrease in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social issues. The one factor that could be associated with the decline in extraversion was hearing loss.

While people commonly 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

Diminished extraversion, which can bring on 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 lack 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 shortage of stimulation to the brain—typically received from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can create social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well developed, and hearing loss appears to be connected 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 people with hearing loss, it can be exceedingly difficult to follow conversations when several people are talking at the same time and where there is a good deal of background noise.

The perpetual battle to hear can be fatiguing, 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 sense of seclusion even if the person is physically part of a group.

For these reasons, among others, it’s no surprise that many individuals with hearing loss choose to abstain from the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss triggers social isolation mainly due to the difficulty 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, consider trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, supplying the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group ahead of time, informing them about your hearing loss and advocating 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 much easier for individuals with hearing loss.