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If you live with untreated hearing challenges, you know how difficult it can be to follow a conversation. While in the moment, something like this can seem like “no big deal” but it actually plays into some of the deep impacts unaddressed hearing loss can make on your quality of life.
Hearing loss cuts into our ability to communicate with others, and our feeling of being understood. Together, this increases the risk for people with untreated hearing loss of experiencing social isolation.
What Is Social Isolation?
At some point in their lives, everyone spends time alone. Social isolation, on the other hand, is different from simply being alone – it refers to solitude that is unhealthy and undesired. Rather than choosing to spend some time alone, social isolation is a solitude reinforced by limited social connections and contact and often coexists with depression and anxiety.
The signs of social isolation include a withdrawal from friends, family and community. People experiencing a new limitation in mobility can often fall into social isolation if the mobility concern is not addressed. Socially isolated people often express a deep boredom or ennui with life. This can be expressed physically as a lapse in personal hygiene and poor eating and exercise habits. Many times, social isolation can lead to unhealthy home conditions such as ignoring housework and maintenance or hoarding behavior.
Most of all, social isolation is a lack of meaningful contact with others. Humans are social by nature, and even the most introverted personality still requires communication and contact with other people to thrive. Succumbing to social isolation can have a severe cognitive impact, including increased risk of dementia. It can deeply affect mood, making socially isolated feel unseen or excluded, angry or bitter with others, and generally unhappy.
Social Isolation and Hearing Loss
Because of the obstacles that untreated hearing loss creates in a person’s social life, people with hearing loss run a much higher risk of becoming socially isolated than their peers with healthy hearing. Untreated hearing loss means that verbal communication with others can seem unwieldy – full of miscommunication and frustration which can lead to tension and misunderstandings with others.
Untreated hearing loss can also subtly change a person’s behavior, making them more vulnerable to isolation. As hearing loss limits the ability to enjoy interacting and conversing with others, social activities with others may become less and less appealing. Activities that were once greatly enjoyed, such as dining out, parties and entertainment like sports, concerts or movies, can become too challenging to be appreciated. Instead of addressing the hearing loss, many people instinctively respond to this curtailed enjoyment by reducing their social activities and interactions. This behavior paves the way for social isolation to set in, as a reduced enjoyment reinforces reduced contact with others.
Untreated hearing loss not only makes in-person conversation harder, it can also reduce other means of contact, such as through video chatting or even simply phone calls. All in all, hearing loss can place limits on a person’s social behavior they may not even recognize, even as patterns of social isolation set into their life.
Treating Social Isolation
While social isolation can involve entrenched behavior patterns, it can be treated, and social connections can be reestablished. Many organizations including the AARP have special initiatives to help bring social contact to isolated individuals. If you are a friend or a family member of someone who you are concerned is becoming socially isolated, these organizations can help you reconnect with your loved one.
Treating hearing loss can also help dissolve the limitations of social isolation by making verbal communication easier. Hearing aids and other assistive devices can restore hearing comprehension by enhancing challenging sound frequencies for easier detection and interpretation. With improved hearing, many of the frustrations surrounding communication can be reduced.
Easier, more enjoyable communication is a powerful tool in combating social isolation. When hearing is less strained, social activities and connections are far less daunting and it is easier to respond to others and feel heard.
If you or someone you know is living with unaddressed hearing loss, it is time to see what treatment options can do. Hearing loss can have serious consequences that hearing assistance can help. When you are ready to learn more, contact us! We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we look forward to helping you hear your best.