As people get older, they generally become less outgoing, but new research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that this change in personality is amplified among people with impaired hearing. The researchers say the findings emphasize the importance of acknowledging and treating hearing loss in the elderly.
The researchers studied 400 individuals 80-98 years old over a six-year period. Every two years, the subjects were assessed in terms of physical and mental measures as well as personality aspects, such as extraversion, which reflects the inclination to be outgoing, and emotional stability.
The results, published in the February 2014 Journal of Personality, show that even if the emotional stability remained constant over the period, the participants became less outgoing.
Interestingly, researchers were not able to connect the observed changes to physical and cognitive impairments or to age-related difficulties finding social activities. The only factor that could be linked to reduced extraversion was hearing loss.
‘To our knowledge, this is the first time a link between hearing and personality changes has been established in longitudinal studies,” says Anne Ingeborg Berg, PhD, licensed psychologist and researcher at the Department of Psychology, 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.”
The study yields interesting knowledge about personality development late in life, and also points to the importance of acknowledging and treating hearing loss among the elderly.
The utilization of hearing aids did not affect the correlation found, which suggests that there is a need for support in the use of aids such as hearing devices.