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Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The consequences of hearing loss appear 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 further, and could actually influence your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this may be the case. The researchers studied 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers measured several physical, mental, social, and personality measures through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

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

Although people in general 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

Decreased 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 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 decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—normally received from group interaction and dialogue—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can trigger 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, exactly what is it about hearing loss that makes people less inclined to be socially active?

The obvious answer is the difficulty hearing loss can present in group settings. For individuals with hearing loss, it can be extremely challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at once and where there is a great deal of background noise.

The perpetual struggle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to go without the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sense of alienation 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 pass up the difficulties of group communication and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss leads to social isolation primarily because of the trouble 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 using hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, providing the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group ahead of time, educating them about your hearing loss and recommending ways to make communication easier.
  • For those that know someone with hearing loss, try 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, preparation, and the suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.