Do you find that you’re a little less confident than you used to be when you walk over uneven terrain or start down a flight of stairs?
Feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and poor balance, which often lead to falls, may be related to your hearing, according to a recently published study in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology.
The study notes that one-third of elderly Americans experience fatal and non-fatal falls each year due to three contributing factors: hearing loss, vestibular dysfunction, and cognitive impairment.
Because we are concerned about the overall health and well-being of individuals in our East Tennessee region, I want to raise your awareness of the link between falls and hearing loss so you can take the necessary steps to avoid falling.
Researchers Identify 3 Conditions Leading to a Higher Risk of Falling
The multidisciplinary study by Joseph Sakumura, AuD, and Richard Gans, PhD, examined how cognitive, vestibular, and auditory impairments are linked to falls, demonstrating how much each of the three conditions adds to your risk of falling.
1. Hearing Loss:
Individuals with auditory impairments have a three–times higher risk of falling than those with normal hearing.
2. Cognitive Impairment:
Deteriorating postural stability, even in those with mild cognitive impairment, puts you at a 14–times higher risk of falling.
3. Vestibular Dysfunction:
There is a 12–times greater fall risk for those experiencing vestibular dysfunction.
Hearing Loss Affects Both Cognitive and Vestibular Functions
Since the study shows that hearing loss only leads to a three-times greater risk of falling, you might assume that it has the least impact, but hearing loss affects both of the two higher-risk conditions as well.
“Patients with even mild cognitive impairment in domains of; visuo-spatial processing, executive function, memory recall, and reaction times are 14 times more likely to have degraded postural stability and elevated fall risk,” the study notes.
Your number-one modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline, according to Sakumura and Gans, is seeking treatment for hearing loss.
The vestibular system contributes 85 percent of the sensory information you need to help keep you steady on your feet. Tiny hair-like cells in your inner ear play a major role in vestibular system function.
Deterioration and damage to these tiny cells typically lead to permanent sensorineural hearing loss. They also reduce the cells’ capacity to deliver the sensory information that helps you maintain your balance.
Unfortunately, in addition to hearing loss, many elderly adults also experience negative health conditions that affect vision and somatosensory function (involving sensations like pressure, pain, warmth, etc.), which coordinate with the vestibular system, therefore further amplifying your fall risk.
Treatment for Hearing Loss and Balance Disorders Is Critical
Proper treatment for hearing loss can have a significant impact on all three impairments and is the most controllable of the three.
Evidence from several studies indicates that hearing aids help improve both balance and cognitive function, like a 2021 City University of New York (CUNY) study that shows improved balance and decreased frequency of falls for hearing aid users.
Research in 2015 at Washington State University demonstrates that participants with hearing aids performed better in balance tests with their hearing aids on than they did when they were switched off.
Since addressing your hearing loss has the greatest impact on both cognitive and vestibular impairments, a hearing assessment is the first step toward decreasing your risk of falling.
The comprehensive hearing assessment you have access to at Physicians Hearing Care leads to personalized treatment of your hearing loss, which will help improve both cognitive function and vestibular function.
If you’re concerned about your risk of falling or that of a loved one, we’re eager to help. Click here to schedule a hearing assessment or call the Fort Sanders, Lenoir City, Morristown, Park West, or Tellico Village PHC hearing center nearest you.