An estimated that 48 million Americans are living with some degree of hearing loss, with 60-69-year olds being the largest population affected. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that social isolation affects nearly 1 in 5 older adults.
According to AARP, isolation is more than just being alone. “It’s the result of being disconnected from support groups of family, friends and community.” Some risk factors for isolation include: living in a rural area, limited mobility, chronic health conditions, and living alone. Social isolation and hearing loss meet at a place where, if left untreated, the latter could exacerbate the former.
A 1999 study by the National Council on the Aging “examined social behavior and found that people who don’t use hearing aids are considerably less likely to participate in social activities.” Untreated hearing loss can make it difficult to socialize in certain environments, like busy restaurants, bars, or even large family gatherings. Asking people to repeat themselves several times may eventually lead to frustration, refraining from conversation, and being distant. Unfortunately, this is all too common and symptomatic of further social isolation.
Positive Next Steps
If this is a familiar pattern of behavior, one way to break the cycle is to get your hearing checked to see if you might benefit from hearing aids or cochlear implants. It can be difficult to admit that you need help, but focusing on the benefits of tending to your health will win out in the end. When you get your hearing tested by an audiologist, you receive a thorough diagnosis of your hearing loss. The doctor will then make their recommendation for next steps, like hearing aids or cochlear implants.
During your hearing aid fitting, you will discuss your lifestyle with your audiologist so that they can better assist you on your hearing health journey. Let them know about a job you have and what it entails, any hobbies and social habits, if you live alone, and anything else you can think of, especially things that may have been hearing obstacles. This information will allow them to fit a hearing aid to your specific needs.
Be, And Stay, In Touch
As you work to improve your hearing health, maintain and strengthen ties to loved ones, widen your social circles, and become involved with local community. AARP has some tips that can help you on your way:
- Nurture existing relationships. Invite people over for coffee or to go see a movie. This is a good way to tell your friends and family that you are working on communicating and socializing.
- Schedule a time each day to call a friend or visit someone. Making the effort to remove yourself from isolation for a phone call or coffee date aims to bridge gaps of time you may have been conspicuously absent from socializing.
- Join a walking club to stay physically active. Include group exercise in the mix. As you make strides to return to your regular social habits, physical activity will get your blood flowing and likely plant seeds for continued social activity. There are also the health benefits associated with regular exercise. Consult your medical doctor before beginning an intense workout regimen.
- Take a class. You’ll learn something new and expand your circle of friends. Whether it is books, movies, or crafts, the benefits from these and other social clubs are many. Opportunities to connect with new people in and out of the class are likely to arise and before you know it, you are connected to more people than you realize.
- Volunteer to deepen your sense of purpose and connect with others who share your interests. This is truly a great way to spend time in a social setting: by helping others in need. You may meet new people and share your experience if you feel it can help them. The confidence with which you carry yourself could be exactly what someone else needs to witness. It could be especially true for someone living with hearing loss and showing the familiar beginning signs of social isolation. How could you help someone else start their journey to better hearing health? You would have a wealth of information to share.