Hearing Loss and Risk of Falling

Hearing Loss and Risk of Falling

Recent research by John Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that hearing loss significantly increases your risk of falling.

Falls are a very serious health concern for the senior population. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 20,000 seniors died from unintentional fall injuries and 2.2 million nonfatal (broken limbs, concussions, etc) were treated in 2009 in the US.

The researchers analyzed data of 2,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 who completed a survey and hearing/balance testing. After accounting for multiple factors that increase fall risk (age, gender, medical conditions, general health, etc), researchers determined that even mild hearing loss nearlytriples the risk of falling. For every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of falling increased by an additional 140%.

Why does hearing loss drastically increase your risk for falling?

One of the suggestions is that hearing impaired people have less environmental awareness due to the hearing loss, thus certain warning signals may not be heard or may be misinterpreted. This issue can be removed with hearing aids that properly restore hearing levels.

Another explanation why hearing impaired individuals could be at a greater risk of falling is that they have an increased “cognitive load” involved with listening, so they use more brain power trying to compensate for the sounds they miss, which takes resources away from other tasks such as maintaining balance. Again, this demand on brain power to hear can be reduced by regular and proper use of hearing aids.

The researchers hope that the findings of the study will lead to the development of ways to prevent falls among seniors, thus saving lives.

Fall Risk Prevention Tips from CDC:

  • Exercise regularly. It is important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance, and that they get more challenging over time. Tai Chi programs are especially good.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines—both prescription and over-the counter—to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update your eyeglasses to maximize your vision.  Consider getting a pair with single vision distance lenses for some activities such as walking outside.
  • Make the home safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding stair railings and improve the lighting in your home.