Seniors who lose their hearing experience quantifiable changes in personality, including a strong tendency to be less outgoing, new research shows.
Scientists from the University of Gothenburg found most seniors experience a natural decline in social skills and activities, but this trend is more pronounced in people with impaired hearing. The findings emphasized the importance of recognizing and treating hearing loss in seniors, the researchers said, noting isolation has been tied to range of life-threatening health problems, such as depression and heart disease, among older Americans.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time a link between hearing and personality changes has been established in longitudinal studies," said Anne Ingeborg Berg, a psychologist and researcher with the University of Gothenburg. "Surprisingly, we did not find that declining overall health and functional capacity make people less outgoing. But hearing loss directly affects the quality of social situations. If the perceived quality of social interaction goes down, it may eventually affect whether and how we relate to others."
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For the study, researchers tracked 400 individuals, 80-98 years old, for a 6-year period. The seniors were assessed on a range of physical and mental health issues, as well as personality aspects such as extraversion, which reflects the inclination to be outgoing, and emotional stability.
The results showed that even if other factors remained constant over the period, the participants who had significant hearing loss became far less outgoing. The researchers said they were not able to connect other age-related factors to the decline in social activities. The only factor that could be linked to reduced extraversion was hearing loss.
“Our previous studies have shown that outgoing individuals are happier with their lives,” Berg said. “It is hypothesized that an outgoing personality reflects a positive approach to life, but it also probably shows how important it is for most people to share both joy and sadness with others.
“Even if we can’t conclude anything about causal relationships, we can guess that the link between hearing loss and social withdrawal forms a potential threat to older people’s well-being.”
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