Social isolation and loneliness among older adults experiencing hearing loss

The Bottom Line

  • Hearing loss, a common condition among older adults, impairs communication and social interactions and can lead to loneliness and isolation.
  • Social isolation is linked to a shrinking social network, a decrease in the number and frequency of social contacts, while loneliness is a subjective measure of the perceived gap between desired and actual social relationships.
  • Social isolation and loneliness are associated with reduced quality of life and increased mortality, while hearing loss can have significant implications for the psychosocial and cognitive health of older adults.

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!

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  1. World Health Organization. 1 in 4 people projected to have hearing problems by 2050. 2 March 2021.
  2. Shukla A, Harper M, Pedersen E, Goman A, Suen JJ, Price C, Applebaum J, Hoyer M, Lin FR, Reed NS. Hearing loss, loneliness, and social Isolation: A systematic review. Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. 2020 May;162(5) : 622-633.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.