Personality changes in elderly with hearing loss


Changes in personality are now known to occur across the life span but were previously thought to slow or stop from early adulthood. In recently reported findings published by researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, a link was demonstrated between hearing impairment and a steeper age-related decline in extraversion in the elderly. People of advanced age have a natural tendency to become less outgoing as they age, but hearing loss was found to exacerbate this phenomenon.

The results were found as part of a 6-year longitudinal study investigating continuity and change in personality among 408 people aged 80 to 98 years in Sweden. Every two years, participants were assessed for physical and mental well-being, and personality aspects such as extraversion and emotional stability were evaluated. A number of factors were tested for their role as potential late-life predictors of personality change and included overall disease load, self-rated health, functional capacity, impaired vision and hearing, self-reported cognitive impairment, and measured cognitive status.

The analyzed data showed that emotional stability remained constant over the period but participants became less outgoing. Interestingly, the only health-related 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, researcher at the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Psychology. “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.”

Source: Berg, AI and Johansson, B. (2014), Personality Change in the Oldest-Old: Is It a Matter of Compromised Health and Functioning? Journal of Personality, 82: 25-31.