Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the continuous battle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences 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 assessed several physical, mental, social, and personality criteria throughout the study, including extroversion, or the tendency to be outgoing.

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

Although people generally speaking become less outgoing as they get older, this study shows that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The repercussions of social isolation

Decreased extraversion, which can trigger social isolation in the elderly, is a major health risk. In fact, a meta-analysis of 148 studies assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that an absence of supporting 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, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—typically obtained 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 appears to be connected to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that makes people less inclined to be socially active?

The most apparent answer is the trouble hearing loss can cause in group settings. For people 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 great deal of background noise.

The perpetual battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to forfeit the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can produce a sensation of alienation even if the person is physically part of a group.

For these reasons, amongst others, it’s no surprise that many people with hearing loss choose to steer clear of the difficulties of group communication and activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss triggers social isolation primarily because of the difficulty people have speaking and participating in groups. To make the process easier for those with hearing loss, think about these tips:

  • If you suffer from hearing loss, think about utilizing hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all instances of hearing loss, supplying the amplification necessary to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, speak with 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. 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 right technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.