Hearing Loss Linked to Increased Risk of Falling

There are many health and personal safety issues related to hearing loss which include cognition, social issues and medical issues but now there has been another risk identified – falls.

A study done in recently at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute of Aging found that untreated hearing loss can significantly increase the risk of falls for older people. Falls are a huge public health problem and results in billions of dollars each year in health care costs.  This finding may help researchers address the issue of falls more effectively and develop new ways to prevent falls.

Dr. Frank Lin found in his study “Hearing Loss and Falls Among Older Adults in the United States” that even when they accounted for other factors related to fall risk (age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function), the risk of falling tripled in people with only a mild 25 decibel hearing loss.  They also found that for each 10-decibel decrease in hearing, the risk for falling increased by 140 percent.

So why does this risk of falling increase so dramatically with hearing loss?  Researchers speculate a few reasons.  One is that people who cannot hear well do not have an overall accurate awareness of their environment and where they are relation to other people and things around them.  Another theory is that gait and balance are very cognitively demanding.  If the brain is overwhelmed by the cognitive load of not hearing well, it only has a limited amount of resources to relegate to balance.

So what can be done to decrease the risk of falling in relation to hearing? Another small study at Washington University of St. Louis then looked at whether wearing hearing aids could help improve balance or lack of hearing aids could make it worse.  They determined that hearing aids did make a positive difference.  Participants were able to maintain their balance longer with hearing aids turned on than when they were turned off.  It was a small study, but the results indicated that sound information alone, independent of the vestibular (balance) system, may play more important role in maintaining balance than was previously thought.

Keeping older adults from falling and the importance of good balance in older people is often underestimated.  Falling is the lead cause of accidental deaths in adults over age 65 in the United States (CDC findings).  Also, in 2009 alone, there were 2.2 million non-fatal injuries reported in emergency departments across the United States, costing approximately $30 billion dollars a year.

So if you or someone you know has hearing loss and/or balance issues, please do not hesitate to call us at HearMD.  We will perform a complete audiological evaluation to determine your hearing status and offer a treatment plan if needed.  Call today to schedule your appointment at 856-602-4200.  Remember – better hearing is better living.

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