Healthy aging relies on the ability to stay active for as long as possible, both physically and socially. Social participation, the maintenance of a support network and the feeling of belonging and usefulness promote well-being and a positive life experience.
About two-thirds of older adults over the age of 70 have age-related hearing loss. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in four people could have hearing problems by 2050, or more than one billion people.(1) That's huge, especially when we know that there is a link between hearing loss and functional decline, depression, cognitive decline and dementia.
Do you tend to avoid meetings in large groups and noisy places? Are you frustrated with the difficulty of following a conversation? Hearing loss can interfere with social activities, which can cause adults with hearing loss to become socially isolated and feel lonely. Although social isolation and loneliness are frequent among older adults, it should not be forgotten that they are also associated with adverse effects on health and quality of life (including mortality, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and depression).
What research tells us
A systematic review of 14 articles explored the association between hearing loss and social isolation and loneliness.(2)
Despite the wide variety of methods used to assess hearing, loneliness and social isolation, most studies have shown that hearing loss is associated with a higher risk of loneliness and social isolation.
In fact, hearing loss is more associated with social isolation than loneliness. Indeed, although hearing loss is a factor in social isolation due to reduced participation in activities or a reduction in the social network, it does not necessarily lead to loneliness in all elderly people who live from social isolation. Some older adults consider it normal to be alone, and some prefer to maintain a smaller social network as they get older.
Several studies have found a significant gender difference: hearing loss in women is more strongly associated with loneliness and social isolation than in men, which is likely due to women relying more on verbal communication to establish and maintain social bonds. Thus, hearing-impaired elderly women would be more vulnerable to the lack of ties with their social environment. Additionally, older women with hearing loss are more likely to report feeling lonely or experiencing a decrease in social support than men.
How to counter isolation?
If you suffer from social isolation and loneliness (or notice a loved one refusing to participate in activities because of hearing problems or embarrassment from wearing a hearing aid), it is important to act! Take a hearing screening exam to get a complete picture of your condition and talk to your professional about possible solutions, such as auditory stimulation and hearing aids. It seems that wearing hearing aids can slow down the process of deafness, or even stabilize it.
In addition, be aware that community centers and nursing homes offer targeted social, cultural or physical activities for older adults with or without functional limitations.
You could also turn to volunteering to combat isolation and strengthen your sense of belonging. Get involved!