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30May2017

Hearing Loss and Falls

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People with hearing loss are more prone to falls. This is a serious public
health concern especially for seniors. Even a mild hearing loss triples the
risk of falls. As amount of hearing loss increases so does the risk of falling.

 

There are 3 factors at play here.

 

1. The vestibular system, which helps us keep our balance is connected to the
cochlea, the inner ear.  Many factors that cause damage to the inner ear may cause damage to the
vestibular system as well.

 

2. Another idea is that our hearing helps us know where we are in space. As we walk
through a room, we hear our footsteps and that helps us know where the floor is! As
we walk through a doorway or near a wall the sounds we make change and tell us that
something is nearby. When we put our coffee cup down, that little clunk tells our
brain that the table is right in front of us. It all helps us orient ourselves in
our environment. Decreased hearing limits our access to these auditory cues.certain
warning signals may not be heard making tripping and falling more likely.

 

3. People with hearing loss may have a greater risk of falling due to an increase
in cognitive load needed for listening. This means that people with hearing loss are
using so much brain power just trying to figure out what someone is saying that they
have little energy left over to maintain balance. (See my blog “Help Me, I’m in a
Snowstorm! for more discussion on this topic.)

 

The good news! Studies show that people with normal hearing have better balance
and walk faster on a treadmill than people with hearing loss. However, after
fitting these hearing impaired subjects with hearing aids and after an acclimatization period
their walking speed and balance improved. Wow! Who knew that wearing hearing
aids helps our balance!

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