Clear Links Between Untreated Hearing Loss & Risk of Falling

The association between reduced hearing and an increased chance of falling is clinically significant and is an important consideration when recommending treatment of hearing loss. The statistics are quite concerning:

· About one third of the population over the age of 65 falls each year, and the risk of falls increases proportionately with age.

· At 80 years, over half of seniors fall annually.

· Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions.

· 40% of those admitted do not return to independent living.

· 25% of falls patients pass away within a year.

· In Australia in 2009-2010, the estimated number of hospitalised injury cases due to falls in people aged 65 and older was 83,800.

As alarming as these statistics are, they are an underestimate, as many falls go unreported.

Many of the causes of falls are preventable and doctors routinely advise their older patients to have their vision checked. They also advise having the home evaluated for falls risks and modified accordingly wherever possible. What’s lesser known and mentioned far less frequently is that another major contributor to an elderly person falling is untreated hearing loss.

Multiple studies have proven that those who are ‘hard of hearing’ are at significantly greater risk of falling.

One of the most significant studies conducted to determine the connection between untreated hearing loss and falls used extensive data from the 2001–2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. More than two thousand survey participants aged 40 to 69 had their hearing tested and responded to the question: “Have you fallen during the past year?”

Researchers also tested participants’ balance function in order to determine if this was being affected by their hearing loss. The lead researchers reported that people with mild hearing loss (roughly 25% hearing loss) were nearly three times as likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10dB (roughly 10%) of hearing loss increased the likelihood of falling by 1.4 times[G11] . Even after other factors (age, sex, race, balance function) were considered, the findings held true.

Possible reasons linking untreated hearing loss and falls

Dr. Frank Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist who conducted this and several other studies on the broader implications of hearing loss, suggests the following possible reasons for the clear links between untreated hearing loss and falls:

· People who can’t hear well may not have clear awareness of their overall environment, increasing the potential to trip and fall.

· Cognitive load increases in those with hearing loss. The brain is overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources to maintain balance and steadiness, while straining to hear and process sound.

· Hearing disorders may also include balance dysfunction.

Now available – hearing aids with built-in falls detection!

To assist in reducing the likelihood of falls, one of the latest hearing devices has built-in falls detection which has a high degree of accuracy and can alert up to three people by SMS when a fall has occurred. When someone responds to the SMS, they are instantly sent Google Maps directions to the person who has fallen, to assist in coming to their aid without delay.

For current owners of hearing devices, reduced risk of falling is yet another reason why hearing devices are best worn during all waking hours. They’ll assist in keeping you sharp, engaged with those around you and firmly on your two feet.

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