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Elderly man sitting on bed alone

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

Research from the University of Gothenburg indicates that this might be the case. The researchers studied 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year period. The researchers measured a number of 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 reduction in extraversion to physical factors, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The one factor that could be connected to the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.

Although people commonly become less outgoing as they get older, this study shows 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 significant health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies evaluating the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a lack of supportive 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. 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—ordinarily received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can lead to 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 inclined to be socially active?

The most apparent answer is the difficulty hearing loss can cause in group settings. For those with hearing loss, it is often exceptionally challenging to follow conversations when several people are speaking at the same time and where there is a great deal of background noise.

The sustained struggle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to abandon the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a feeling of separation even if the person is physically part of a group.

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

What can be done?

Hearing loss brings about social isolation principally because of the trouble people have speaking and participating in groups. To make 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 cases of hearing loss, delivering the amplification necessary to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with the group beforehand, 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, choose quiet areas for communication, and speak directly and clearly to the person with hearing loss.

With a bit of awareness, planning, and the suitable technology, we can all make communication a little easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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