The Benefits of Being Social for Older Americans

In hearing health, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Humans require social interaction to stay healthy in every aspect of our lives. Research shows that having a strong network of support and community creates both emotional and physical health. Over the years, there have been a number of studies showcasing the relationship between social support and the quality of physical and psychological health. In fact, the National Institute on Aging says research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

Hearing Loss and Social Interaction

If you are suffering from hearing loss you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older are living with disabling hearing loss. When you live with hearing loss social interaction becomes much more challenging. Communication is a big part of being social, but that’s hard to manage when you constantly have to ask people to repeat themselves. Often people feel ashamed or tire of not hearing what is being said and start to avoid social situations completely.
That feeling of isolation in a room full of conversation can have a very negative impact on your mental health and can lead to cognitive decline.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School analyzed 8 years of data from a health study of more than 10,000 men and found that living with hearing loss led to an appreciably higher risk of cognitive decline. In fact, it seemed that the risk of cognitive decline went up according to the severity of the hearing loss. With untreated hearing loss, the brain gets overworked by constantly straining to understand speech and sound. An overworked brain doesn’t work efficiently. When a person has trouble hearing conversations and socializing, they may prefer staying home instead. However, the more isolated a person becomes, the less stimuli their brain receives.  Brain cells can shrink from lack of stimulation, including the parts of the brain that receive and process sound.

The Power of a Social Life

A recent study from the University College London found that friends, not family, might make all the difference when it comes to reducing risk of dementia later in life.

“We examined social contact with both friends and relatives and found that it was contact with friends, rather than relatives, which seemed to be protective,” Andrew Sommerlad, PhD, lead author of the study “This may be because contact with friends is more cognitively stimulating, or simply reflect that we can choose how many friends we have, but we have less control over how many relatives we can see.”
The importance of staying social as you age cannot be highlighted enough; however, it can be hard as you age. Here are just a few ways to stay socially engaged:

  • Volunteer your talents – Not only can volunteering a few times a week or month bring structure to one’s life, but it can also create connections with others.
  • Find a hobby – Practicing something you enjoy can fill time, bring joy, and help you meet new people.
  • Learn something new – Keep your brain active, learn something new and make some friends while you’re at it.

HearCare Rhode Island

Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. Social life, family relationships, marriage relationships independence and cognitive ability can suffer greatly if one’s hearing loss goes untreated. The ability to understand as well as contribute to relationships often is damaged when one unable to hear.
Many find that hearing aids improve access to sound and ultimately raise their self-esteem when they are engaged in the important relationships around them. Don’t wait for the problem to get worse. If you suspect you have hearing loss contact us at HearCare Rhode Island today!