Risk of Falls and Balance
Dr. Frank Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, and his colleague Dr. Luigi Ferrucci found that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold. This finding still held true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function. Even excluding participants with moderate to severe hearing loss from the analysis didn’t change the results.
Lin, an otologist and epidemiologist, says among the possible explanations for the link is that people who can’t hear well might not have good awareness of their overall environment, making tripping and falling more likely.
Another reason hearing loss might increase the risk of falls, Lin adds, is cognitive load, in which the brain is overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources.
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” Lin says. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
Treating hearing loss gives a person better spatial and environmental awareness, leading to less accidental falls. Treatment also relieves one’s high demand of interpreting speech and sound and gives more resources to maintain balance.
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