Does Hearing Loss Result in Isolation?
Hearing loss is defined as a physiological process of deterioration in the perception and integration of sounds that cause difficulties in the relationship with the environment. The causes of hearing loss can range from deterioration of the organ of Corti, cochlear neuronal loss, degeneration in the auditory pathways, mechanical alterations and a list of events that will end up causing deafness in itself, but if this is added any other cause could overtake or precipitate deafness. Exposure to environmental noise or the use of toxic drugs for the ear can aggravate hearing loss.
Hearing loss as a sensory disability affects family and social interaction, limiting the ability to communicate and, consequently, generating isolation and loss of autonomy, contributing to the development of anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment.
One in three people over 60 has a hearing loss. The percentage is in the middle of the population when we talk about men and women over 85. However, hearing loss can be treated, and, in this sense, it is key to find solutions to avoid dangerous situations, problems of self-esteem, frustration and social isolation. Several studies warn of this last factor.
According to research reported by Macquarie University Sydney NSW, there is a direct relationship between hearing loss and the risk of social isolation in people over 60 years old. For every 10 decibels (dB) of hearing loss, the risk of social isolation increases by 52% and people who suffer from hearing loss were 64% more likely to report symptoms of depression than those with good hearing. The study also indicates that undiagnosed hearing loss problems are linked to cognitive impairment equivalent to almost four years of chronological age.
But the risk of social isolation implied by hearing loss does not only affect the person who suffers it directly. Research conducted by the Australian Department of Health also warns that it influences the social relationships of couples and family members. Among the problems found in this study are, for example, the one related to telephone calls, since couples and relatives of people with hearing loss are frustrated by always having to answer the phone or having to alert the family member to the call with hearing problems. In addition, the excessive volume of television is a problem in this regard.
The study also talks about social isolation, pointing out that, as many people with hearing loss prefer not to go to environments with a lot of noise or people, their partners or relatives end up going to these places alone or staying at home.
Language deprivation and mental development due to hearing loss
The first 5-7 years of a child’s life is a critical period during which the human brain learns to understand the complex, abstract and social aspects of language. During these years, every child needs a rich language environment. Otherwise, this can lead to language deprivation and permanent delay in language development. Studies have shown that about 20% of children with hearing loss cannot answer questions using either verbal or sign language, despite the normal level of nonverbal intelligence.
If a child does not speak any language, they cannot satisfactorily interact with other people, which leads to social isolation and a delay in the development of social skills – it is difficult for a child to learn to determine the mental state of other people and how their behaviour is explained by their thoughts and feelings. In other words, this leads to a delay in the development of the mental model (the ability to determine the perception, feelings and thoughts of other people). However, in this case, the delay in the development of the mental model is explained by the lack of opportunities for language development. Obviously, the only reason for such a delay in the development of the mental model is language deprivation, and not hearing loss itself.
The mental model may develop later, and, of course, it’s better later than not at all. However, as a result, the child may miss important opportunities for social and cognitive development in various learning and social situations. For example, in peer groups, in relationships with teachers and other authorities, and during romantic relationships.
Therefore, in the case of suspected hearing loss in a child, it is important to assess his motivation for communication and not the level of his communication skills. The low level of development of the mental model is a possible symptom of hearing loss.
Social exclusion in children with hearing loss
Social exclusion is a problem for many people with hearing loss. 90% of children with hearing loss live with hearing parents. Most of them live and function in communities (at workplaces, in schools, hospitals, churches, sports clubs, etc.), where there are very few other people who have hearing loss. This can lead to a life experience characterized by loneliness and isolation. In such communities, a person with hearing loss can be perceived as “alone” or “not like everyone else,” which is similar to how people with Autism spectrum disorder are perceived. However, this can only be a consequence of external circumstances. If a deaf child has role models among deaf adults and opportunities for communication with other deaf people, then he will most likely be competent and confident in communication. Very often, children with hearing loss who are considered “different” among other people with the same hearing loss problems, give the impression of being completely “normal” and without communication problems.
Social exclusion is a problem for many people with hearing loss. However, the initial causes of this isolation are different for many different children, and during the diagnosis, it is very important to understand these reasons.
Isolation and hearing loss in older people
During ageing, hearing loss is considered one of the most important public health problems due to its impact on the physical, emotional and social well-being of the person. What happens is that the hearing deficit not only affects the perception and understanding of speech but also determines the level of social participation. The latter is manifested in a tendency towards depression, a decrease in self-esteem, social isolation and a significant increase in family stress, facts that are also observable in people with a certain degree of dementia.
As older adults lose their hearing, they see their quality of life diminish significantly, work opportunities are reduced, they are isolated from their social world and even begin to suffer deterioration in their family relationships. All this lead secondarily to a depressive state, with loss of self-esteem in the belief that this situation is irreversible.
Dealing with hearing loss in older people
Your GP, ENT Specialist or Audiologist are responsible for making the correct diagnosis and proposing the most appropriate way to improve your situation. Hearing loss may not be cured, but there are adequate behaviour patterns and a rehabilitative treatment with the means that technology provides us. In addition, there are actions that we can generate such as talking to them with eye contact, slowly, pronouncing well, in a noisy environment without shouting at them. The use of hearing aids, hearing training, support systems such as light signals in the doorbell or door, vibrators in your pocket or pillow, wireless headphones for television and radio, sound amplifiers in telephones and mobile phones are all valid alternatives. What must be taken into account is that the options will also depend on the economic possibilities of a person. In the case of hearing aids, the market provides a huge variety of prices and qualities.
How hearing loss affects relationships
Hearing loss leads to other health problems, including depression, loss of concentration, impaired memory, and even dementia. Recently, another problem has appeared on this list – difficulties in interpersonal communication.
The relationship between hearing loss and impaired communication between a person with hearing loss and their surroundings is not an unexpected discovery for audiologists. A recent study by Senses Australia analyzed this issue on the basis of specific data and took into account more than 70 previous studies on complaints from people who suffer from hearing loss and their families.
The results of this study were recently published by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. They show that deafness affects the social connections of people in all areas of their lives. According to the Guardian, it often happens that both sides begin to feel depressed and socially estranged. Living with a person with hearing loss can be very tiring, as their partner may feel that they should act as a “spare ear” for their partner, answer the phone and translate conversations.
It is important to note that for some time emotional relationships and the deterioration of social relations can go unnoticed due to the deterioration being gradual. Couples may progressively abandon old habits or previous form of activities as it may take a lot of effort to hear what the other person is saying. This can lead to annoyance, resentment and social exclusion.
At Attune Hearing, we empathize and understand what it is like to suffer from hearing loss and to live in isolation. That is why we are here to help! Book an appointment today with one of our Audiologists to discuss recommendations and solutions for your hearing health. Contact us now and get connected with people again!