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The connection between hearing loss and falls

Posted on Jan 12, 2015

If you have hearing loss you may be more likely to experience a fall, according to research from the John Hopkins Medical Institutions1.

The study revealed that the risk of falling increases three-fold in those with hearing loss.

In order to determine this connection, researchers from John Hopkins as well as the US National Institute on Aging used data from 2,017 participants gathered over a three year period. Respondents answered questions about whether they had fallen in the past year. They were also asked questions about their demographics in order to determine whether age or being male or female could influence these results. Their vestibular function was also measured. This is a measure of how well they could keep their balance.

The results indicate that those with a 25-decibel (mild) hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a fall. Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss further increased this risk by 1.4-fold, regardless of race, age, sex, vestibular function or cardiovascular disease.

Why is there a link between falling and hearing loss?

Researchers believe this may be because those with hearing loss may not have good awareness of their overall environment, which could make tripping and falling more likely.

However, it could also be a result of cognitive overload, lead researcher Dr Frank Lin suggests. This is because the brain is trying to cope with hearing loss as well as its other functions. This means there is too much demand on it and it must let something slip: balance.

"Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding," Lin said.

"If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait".

However, getting hearing aids fitted can help you to balance the load and may reduce your risk of tripping, slipping and falling. 

1.       Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Three-Fold Rish of Falling. Accessed February 27, 2012. Can be found here.

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