Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The negative effects of hearing loss seem obvious, such as the frustration of the continual struggle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the repercussions went deeper, and could actually modify your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg indicates that this may be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers measured 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 link the reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social issues. The single factor that could be linked to 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 repercussions of social isolation

Reduced extraversion, which can bring on social isolation in the elderly, is a significant 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.

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, leading 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 result in social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well developed, and hearing loss seems to be connected to decreased social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that tends to make 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 is often exceedingly challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at one time and where there is a lot of background noise.

The sustained struggle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a feeling 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 steer clear of the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss causes social isolation mainly because of the difficulty people have communicating and participating in groups. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these guidelines:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, consider utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, dispensing the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with the group in advance, 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. 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 proper technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.