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The negative effects of hearing loss appear obvious, such as the frustration of the constant struggle to hear and the affect 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 examined 400 men and women aged 80-98 over a six-year time frame. The researchers evaluated a number of physical, mental, social, and personality criteria through the duration of the study, including extroversion, or the disposition to be outgoing.

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

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

The consequences of social isolation

Reduced extraversion, which can bring about 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 supporting social relationships was linked 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 lead to decreased physical activity, contributing to physical problems and weight issues, and the lack of stimulation to the brain—normally received from group interaction and communication—can lead to cognitive decline.

How hearing loss can trigger social isolation

The health effects of social isolation are well established, and hearing loss appears to be linked to diminished social activity. The question is, exactly what is it about hearing loss that makes people less likely to be socially active?

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

The sustained battle to hear can be exhausting, and it’s sometimes easier to give up the activity than to battle through it. Hearing loss can also be embarrassing, and can create a sensation of separation 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 communication and activity.

What can be done?

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

  • If you have hearing loss, think about trying hearing aids. Today’s technology can treat virtually all cases of hearing loss, creating the amplification necessary to more easily interact in group settings.
  • If you have hearing loss, talk to the group beforehand, educating them about your hearing loss and suggesting 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 those with hearing loss.

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