Falls are a common problem with adults 65 years and older. One third of the elderly will fall annually, costing approximately 34 billion dollars to cover medical expenses for procedures and hospitalization. Falls also lead to a decrease in the overall quality of life as a result of constant stress and anxiety regarding falls.
Age-related hearing loss affects greater than 60% of individuals aged 70-79 and even 80% of those 80 and older. More recent studies have linked hearing loss to balance deficits in the older population through fall-risk associated assessments. Even a mild hearing loss can increase the risk of an accidental fall by nearly three times. These balance deficits tend to increase especially when noise is present when walking on uneven surfaces or complex environments.
There are several reasons why hearing loss affects balance. Hearing loss reduces situational awareness of the surrounding environment. As a result, an individual with a hearing loss may not notice other people, things, or activities near them. Hearing loss also reduces spatial awareness as it may be difficult to assess how far other objects are in relation to the body. Finally, with hearing loss the brain tries to listen and interpret speech which can cause fatigue. As a result, there is little room left for the brain for maintaining balance and stability.
Treating an age-related hearing loss in the form of hearing aids may improve balance. Studies that have been done found that when hearing aids are consistently used, individuals had an increased ability to localize sound and to assess position and movement.
In conclusion, treating a hearing loss not only can help with reconnecting with family and loved one’s by hearing better, but also improve balance. By treating the hearing loss sooner rather than later, individuals can have an improved quality of life and minimize the risk of falling.
Elizabeth Zuniga – Audiology Extern at Lemme Audiology Associates