Hearing Loss And Social Isolation

One bird on a wire separate from the rest of the flock social isolation hearing loss

By Martine Schlagintweit, M.Sc., AUD, Aud(C), RHIP

Social distancing measures relating to the COVID-19 outbreak have been in place in British Columbia for well over a month now. And while social distancing is unusual for most of us, people with untreated hearing loss experience social isolation on a day-to-day basis, often for years. 


Hearing loss causes isolation

Our lives have changed significantly. Individuals who previously worked in offices now work remotely from their homes, virtually connecting with clients and colleagues instead of meeting face to face. Non-essential medical appointments, social gatherings, exercise classes and more have been cancelled or altered to comply with the mandatory two-metre distance between people. Neighbours, friends and families do not physically come together for fear of spreading illness. 
The general feeling towards these changes is a mixture of uneasiness and sadness, as people keenly feel the ache of forced social isolation. What many people do not know is that a significant portion of the population, up to 19% of Canadians according to Statistics Canada, have lived with some degree of forced social isolation relating to their hearing loss for years. 

Hearing loss is a barrier to communication

The mandatory social distancing measures put in place in British Columbia have brought to light how people with communication barriers must feel all the time. Hearing loss acts as a communication barrier, which by nature socially distances people from their surroundings and their peers. In fact, a health report for Statistics Canada notes that untreated hearing loss has been linked with higher rates of social, emotional and health consequences, including: 
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Loneliness
  • Cognitive decline and memory issues 
  • Self-reported social isolation
  • Lower quality of life 
  • Mobility issues and falls


Hearing loss creates social isolation

Social isolation caused by hearing loss may be at the heart of these issues. So how does hearing loss contribute to social isolation? Given the gradual onset of hearing loss, the condition can go undetected and therefore untreated for many years. When people do become aware of their hearing loss, the average delay between acknowledging the condition and seeking treatment is about seven years. Because of its slow onset, individuals with hearing loss and their peers will often subconsciously make changes to their communication to accommodate the hearing impairment, for example:
  • Limiting group activities due to a sensation of not being able to “keep up” with conversations
  • Avoiding noisy places like restaurants because you cannot hear speech clearly
  • “Tuning out” in conversations with multiple people, thereby excluding oneself
  • Relying on familiar speakers to repeat or “translate” what someone has said
  • Communicating via text or email instead of phone calls
  • Avoiding meeting new friends
  • Limiting the acquaintances, one spends time with to those they can hear easily 

Reverse isolation by treating hearing loss

Collectively, these changes lead to less social connection and with fewer people. By contrast, individuals who have treated their hearing loss with hearing aids are generally less affected by the outcomes of hearing loss discussed above. 
Treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids has been associated with better cognition, less cognitive decline, better speech recognition, and overall better quality of life. It’s important to treat hearing loss as early as possible—doing so will help avoid social isolation later on. 
If you live with hearing loss, are feeling socially isolated, or both, the following resources are available to you:

If you or a loved one is socially isolated because of untreated hearing loss call us at Broadmead: 250.479.2969 or Oak Bay: 250.479.2921 to make a Telehealth (video) appointment with an Audiologist.