Two studies on adult development have been going on for over 75 years. The Grant and Glueck studies looked at men (and later, their wives and children) who graduated Harvard from 1939-1944 as well as a group of men who grew up in the inner city of Boston around the same time. Studies of this magnitude are extremely hard to come by.
As you might imagine, after looking deeply (they literally measured things like the distance from a participant’s nose to their upper lip) in to the lives of hundreds of people over the course of 70+ years, there were many interesting correlations. For example, men who served in combat were asked whether they had been under enemy fire or if they had killed others in combat. Over the years the percentage who had been under enemy fire went up and the percentage who had killed another went down. Interesting how time changes the past, isn’t it? But the most interesting (though not that surprising) conclusions about what predicts our health and happiness had much more to do with our relationships with others than things like genetics or income.
The 4th director of the study, Robert Waldinger (quoted below) did a wonderful TED talk where he outlines the most important lessons about health and happiness from the studies:
“Relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
1. “People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, and community are happier, they’re a physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well-connected. The experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.”
2. “…it’s not whether or not you are in a committed relationship but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.” “High-conflict marriages for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health; perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good warm relationships is protective.”
“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80.” This was the most significant finding when they looked through all the medical information they had on these men (including things like blood pressure) and tried to find any data point that could predict their health at age 80.
3. “…good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80’s is protective. That the people who are in relationships where they really feel like they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper, longer.”
“And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time, some of our octogenarian couples could bicker day in and day out, but as long as they felt the they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.”
Other research backs up these findings as well – here is a study from 2014 that looked at many of these effects of relationships on physical and mental health. As an audiologist, I of course see the connection with relationships and communication. So, there are of course the studies I’ve cited before on how untreated hearing loss is strongly correlated with isolation, reduced cognitive stimulation, reduced income, and mortality.
But as Waldinger points out,
“[this] wisdom is as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and easy to ignore?”
As he goes on to say, we often look for a quick-fix instead of investing in the things history has taught us. This mirrors so many different fields of healthcare, including Audiology. As humans, quick-fix thinking seems to be quite common. And the reality is that relationships, communication, and investing in something you can’t guarantee the outcome of, can be extraordinarily challenging.
He recommends we “lean-in” to our close relationships more by doing things like reconnecting with estranged family members or reawakening a stale relationship by trying something new, like a date night. The cost of not tending to these relationships is much higher than we probably expect.
Hearing loss can play a major role in relationship challenges and our long term health – we can actually DO something about hearing loss. So let’s get to it!
Start by getting a hearing test by a good audiologist. From there you may learn you are a hearing aid candidate (or maybe not). Being a hearing aid candidate does not mean a hearing aid will fix everything (remember that quick-fix mentality?). Hearing aids are often a very important piece of the communication puzzle of a hearing loss, but if you purchase them thinking that’s all you need to do, you will probably be disappointed with your results.
This is why I said hearing aids are ONE piece – you need a good audiologist to help you find the right hearing aids (or other devices), the best hearing aid settings, and help you and your family get the most benefit from this investment. I’ve found that another VITAL piece to this puzzle is the underlying listening and communication skills of hearing aid users and their families. A hearing aid helps you hear – it does not teach others how to communicate with you or teach better listening strategies. Many audiologists don’t have the time or resources to really teach these things either – that is where Hearing Ally comes in.
Contact me for a free 15 minute consult on your family’s or patients’ needs – I can help you navigate hearing healthcare (which is often not as transparent as we would like) and get the training you need to hear and listen better, with or without hearing aids.