Though usually understood as physical damage to one’s hearing due to age, illness, or injury, hearing loss has numerous effects on not only physical health, but mental health. For the 48 million American’s suffering from various degrees of hearing loss, unseen struggles can reduce heir quality of life, extending much further than skin deep. A 2013 study conducted by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests just that, directly linking hearing loss to depression, anxiety, and a decrease in outgoing tendencies in those aged 80-98. Researchers concluded that mental health complications caused by hearing loss are a major health risk that can not only lower life expectancy, but can also fundamentally change you and your personality.
The Effects of Depression and Social Isolation
For those suffering from depression, social isolation often goes hand in hand. Depression symptoms include difficulties in motivation, increased irritability, and a lack of enjoyment in things or activities once previously enjoyed. With that in mind, It’s often exhausting to remain socially active when afflicted with depression, as research indicates a sharp reduction in tendencies to be outgoing. Lead researchers Anne Berg and Boo Johansson found that even though those aged 80-98 tend to be less outgoing than younger populations, this reduction in extraversion was significantly compounded in those with hearing loss. Isolation effects more than a patient’s outgoing tendencies, as a lack of social interaction has been linked to increased mortality rates and a reduction in physical activity and brain stimulation, raising the possibility of unhealthy weight gain or cognitive decline.
How Hearing Loss Contributes to Social Isolation
The physical and social demands that come with hearing loss can be exhausting, which can motivate some patients to retreat from the social life they previously loved. Having to exert more effort to listen and understand in social interactions than those with normal hearing, listening fatigue can quickly set in when socializing in groups or in loud environments with background noise. With studies linking fatigue to depression and irritability, it’s clear how listening fatigue can alter one’s personality.
Not only is this struggle to hear tiring, but it can also be socially confining. It’s difficult to feel a part of a social outing when you cannot follow along with intimate conversations or engaging activities, which can make some patients feel embarrassed or separated even when part of the group. When faced with the tiring physical demands and social stigma of hearing loss, some patients are choosing to stay home instead.
What You Can Do
- For those with hearing loss, seek treatment and advice from a health care provider. There are many options to assist you in your daily life that they can recommend. With new technology, hearing aids have been designed for all kinds of lifestyles, giving you the assistance you need to listen with ease in difficult environments.
- Remove the social stigma by informing your group about your hearing loss and ways to make interaction easier.
- Plan ahead. Choosing environments that are less distracting and more accommodating to your degree of hearing loss can make communication with your friends and family more accessible for the group.