Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the stress of the constant struggle to hear and the affect this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went deeper, and could actually influence your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg shows that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers assessed a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the inclination to be outgoing.

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

Although people commonly become less outgoing as they age, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The effects of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can bring on social isolation in the elderly, is a significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies evaluating the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a shortage of supporting social relationships was linked with increased mortality rates.

Additionally, social isolation is a major risk factor for mental illness, including the onset of major depression. Being less socially active can also result in 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 developed, and hearing loss seems to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less likely to be socially active?

The most evident answer is the trouble hearing loss can cause in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally challenging to follow conversations when several people are talking at the same time and where there is a large amount of background noise.

The persistent struggle to hear can be fatiguing, 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 feeling of solitude 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 decide to avoid the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss triggers social isolation mainly because of the trouble people have communicating and participating in group settings. To render the process easier for those with hearing loss, consider these guidelines:

  • If you have hearing loss, think about using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all cases of hearing loss, supplying the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group in advance, informing them about your hearing loss and advocating ways to make communication easier.
  • For those that know someone with hearing loss, try 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, preparation, and the proper technology, we can all make communication a little easier for those with hearing loss.