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Good Friends Make for Better Health

I got an email from someone I didn’t know this week, saying how comforting she had found my book, especially the chapter about friendship.

‘‘My ‘friends’ all know that I am deaf,” she wrote. “Some try to look at me more (that doesn’t last too long), some try to talk slower (that doesn’t last long). I am amazed at how impatient they get with me. I am amazed how inconsiderate they are.

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“I was at a lovely luncheon yesterday in a restaurant with about 60 women. At one point before we sat down I was standing with two ‘friends,’ one said something, the other smiled. The first one said to me, ‘Why don't you smile?’ I said I hadn’t heard what she’d said. She gave me a ‘tsk’ and walked away.  This is someone I have been friends with since I was a teenager.

“I avoid most social situations these days. How happy I am with that! I also have two dogs at home who are happy to see me, listen to me and have no complaints with me.”

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Her email made me sad, but it didn’t surprise me. The National Institute on Aging has found a significantly greater incidence of social isolation and depression in those with hearing loss. With mild to moderate hearing loss, social isolation and situational depression should ideally be treated by correcting the hearing loss first. Depression that results from hearing loss can be treated with short-term therapy that helps you understand the grieving process, to understand that grieving is normal and that acceptance of the loss is possible.

For those with severe to profound hearing loss, like me and my correspondent, the answers aren’t easy.

Friendships and social connections are a key factor in living a longer, healthy life. This was demonstrated in “The Longevity Project,’’ a book-length report on an 80-year study of 1,528 individuals that began with Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921 and was completed by the psychology professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. In a 2011 interview, I asked Friedman and Martin what the single strongest social predictor of long life was. Their unhesitating answer: a strong social network.

People with hearing loss sometimes have to make themselves keep up those social connections. If you know you’re not going to be able to hear at a lecture, a party or a restaurant, the tendency is to stay home. This is true also of places of worship. It’s one reason why assistive listening devices and hearing loops are so important.

Lectures, classes and worship services are places where many of us go for social, intellectual and spiritual stimulation. They are where we meet new people and hear new ideas. If a venue like a lecture hall or place of worship is looped, it becomes accessible to those with hearing loss simply by a flip of the T-coil switch on their hearing aid.

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These are also the kind of places where friendships are formed and nurtured. We need to be sure they are accessible to those with hearing loss. Your chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America may have a list of looped venues. A looped venue is a good place to start getting yourself out and about again.

I also recommend finding others with hearing loss. Your chapter of HLAA or ALDA, or any kind of support group that deals with hearing loss, is a good place to start making friends. It’s also a place where you will never feel uncomfortable or dismissed or an outsider, because everyone there understands hearing loss.

Photo: vm/iStock

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