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How Hearing Loss Can Lead to Personality Changes

June 02, 2016

Elderly man sitting on bed alone

The effects of hearing loss appear obvious, including the stress of the chronic struggle to hear and the impact this can have on relationships. But what if the consequences went further, and could actually influence your personality?

Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that this might be the case. The researchers examined 400 individuals aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers evaluated several physical, mental, social, and personality measures throughout the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

Surprisingly, the researchers couldn’t associate the reduction in extraversion to physical variables, cognitive decline, or social challenges. The single factor that could be connected to the decrease in extraversion was hearing loss.

While people usually become less outgoing as they age, this study demonstrates that the change is amplified in those with hearing loss.

The repercussions 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 assessing the relationship between social isolation and mortality found that a lack 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 lead to reduced physical activity, leading to physical problems and weight issues, and the shortage of stimulation to the brain—normally 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 seems to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, what is it about hearing loss that tends to make people less disposed to be socially active?

The most apparent answer is the difficulty hearing loss can present in group settings. For people with hearing loss, it can be exceptionally difficult to follow conversations when several people are speaking all at once and where there is a large amount of background noise.

The sustained struggle to hear can be fatiguing, and it’s sometimes easier to forgo the activity than to struggle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a sense of seclusion 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 pass up the difficulties of group interaction and social activity.

What can be done?

Hearing loss triggers social isolation primarily 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 have hearing loss, think about trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat practically all instances of hearing loss, providing the amplification required to more effortlessly interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group in advance, informing them about your hearing loss and promoting 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 right technology, we can all make communication much easier for individuals with hearing loss.

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