Prevent Falls by Treating Hearing Loss

Prevent Falls by Treating Hearing Loss

Bary E. Williams Au.D. Uncategorized

Falls may be far more common than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 4 people, 65 and older, fall every year. This causes broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and even mortality. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults in the U.S. In addition to increased health care costs, falls can lead to permanent mobility and cognitive issues that significantly impact one’s ability to manage and navigate daily life. A major way falls can be prevented is by treating hearing loss. 

Hearing Loss: Causes & Symptoms 

Hearing loss is the third most common, chronic health condition that older adults experience. A public health epidemic, nearly 1 in 8 people (over 40 million) are impacted by hearing loss. There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including the following: 

  • Existing Medical Conditions: such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes increase the risk of hearing loss. 
  • Genetic History: it is possible to inherit genes that impact the auditory system and result in impaired hearing.
  • Environmental Exposure to Loud Noise: one time or consistent absorption of loud noise damages the hair cells in the inner ear. 

Hearing loss typically happens gradually so it can be ignored for quite some time. A few common symptoms include: 

  • Tinnitus, a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears 
  • Increasing the volume on electronic devices (smartphone, TV, speaker)
  • Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly
  • Sounds are slurred or muffled 
  • Difficulty following entire conversations, especially in environments with background noise
  • Needing to read mouths to identify specific words

These symptoms can be experienced from mild to severe, affecting all aspects of life. Untreated hearing loss can worsen symptoms and impairment. It is incredibly important to address hearing health as soon as you notice any symptoms. 

Falls & Hearing Loss 

In addition to the numerous symptoms produced by hearing loss; research has also shown that their hearing loss can lead to falls. The link between falls and hearing loss has been established in various studies including a significant 2012 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins. Published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the study included:  

  • Study: 2,017 participants, ages 40-69, who had their hearing tested and self-reported any falls they experienced. 
  • Findings: researchers found that falls increased with hearing loss. Specifically finding that: 
    • People with mild hearing loss were 3 times more likely to have a history of falling
    • For every addition 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of falling increased by 140%

These significant statistics highlight that the severity of the hearing loss drastically increases the risk of falling. Researchers in the study offered two possible ways that hearing loss does this: 

  1. Less Environmental Awareness: reduced ability to hear often means that you have difficulty hearing sounds in the environments you navigate. This could include hearing warning signs (sirens, honks, other voices etc.), hearing activities happening, traffic etc. This leads to less awareness of the overall environment which makes falling and tripping more likely.
  2. Cognitive Overload: hearing loss forces the brain to work even harder to try to hear and process sound. This increased cognitive demand can lead to, “fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait” as Dr. Lin, an otologist and researcher in the study explained. 

Treating hearing loss is an effective way to not only reduce risk of falling, but also improve communication and overall health. 

Treating Hearing Loss 

Seeking treatment is relatively simple! The first step is to schedule an appointment for a hearing test with our team of hearing healthcare specialists. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. 

Fortunately, there are useful ways that hearing loss is effectively treated. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. Hearing aids increase hearing ability which strengthens communication, reduces risk of falls and accidental injuries, and improves overall health!  Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Bary E. Williams Au.D.
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