Hearing loss has been linked with a variety of medical issues, including dementia. However, if you’ve ever had trouble with one of your ears, you may have noticed that it affected your balance as well. With the ear playing a vital role in both hearing and balance, it makes sense that hearing loss and falling may be connected.
A recent study led by Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, has confirmed this, linking hearing loss to a three-fold risk in falling. Using the data of over 2000 participants across three years, Lin and his colleague, Luigi Ferrucci, from the National Institute of Aging, found that people with a hearing loss of 25-decibels (considered mild) were almost three times more likely to have a history of falling. For every 10 decibels this hearing loss increased, the risk of falling also increased a further 1.4 fold.
According to Lin, the main reasons for this link are awareness and cognitive load. It is plausible that people who have hearing loss may not have a good awareness of their environment, increasing the likelihood of them experiencing falls. Cognitive load refers to the brain being overwhelmed with burdens on its limited resources. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help maintain balance and gait” says Lin.
Further studies investigating the link between hearing loss and balance are being undertaken, including one by the University of Texas, Dallas, research team. This particular study will not only explore the link between hearing loss and the likelihood of falls, but also go a step further by evaluating how much hearing aids may improve balance and, therefore, prevent falls for those with hearing problems.
Chief investigator Linda Thibodeau anticipates “…that there will be increased cognitive resources available to devote to balance and gait when the hearing aids or assistive devices are worn.”
So what does all this research mean? With one in six Australians affected by hearing loss, it’s important to monitor your hearing health. If you or a loved one are having difficulty hearing as well as you once could, or are experiencing a high number of falls, visiting a clinic is an important first step.
While many people are hesitant to have their hearing checked, or to wear a hearing device, digital hearing aids today are smaller and more comfortable than ever before. What’s more, based on the research above, a hearing aid could improve balance making yourself or your loved one three times less likely to trip or fall.
If you or one of your family members or friends are experiencing hearing loss, then perhaps it’s time to make an appointment.