You may have heard that hearing loss is associated with anxiety, depression and cognitive decline. But did you know that untreated hearing loss puts you at an increased risk of suffering a fall while walking at Kerry Park? Below we review how hearing and balance are connected, why hearing loss puts you at an increased risk of falling and how to reduce your risk of a fall.
Your Hearing & Balance Systems Are Connected
The inner ear is made up of three parts: the cochlea, semicircular canals and vestibule.
The cochlea is responsible for helping you hear, as it is lined with tiny hairs called stereocilia that convert soundwaves into electrical energy that the brain interprets as sound.
The semicircular canals and vestibule are responsible for helping you balance. These are also lined with stereocilia, and are filled with fluid. As you move your head and body, the fluid moves the hairs, which tells your brain how you’re moving and oriented in space.
If you have damage to your hearing system, there is likely also damage to the balance system, which is why many people with hearing loss also have balance problems.
What the Research Shows
According to one study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine of 2013, even a mild hearing loss of 25 decibels triples your chance of experiencing a fall.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2019 found that 13% of seniors with hearing loss experienced a fall within three years compared to just 7.5% of the seniors without hearing loss.
Why Hearing Loss Increases Your Risk of Falling
There are a few hypotheses for why hearing loss increases your chance of falling.
One possible reason is that hearing uses cognitive resources normally responsible for helping you balance. When you can’t hear well, you have to strain to make out sounds. This leaves less cognitive power available for keeping you upright.
Another reason is that the natural aging process affects both hearing and balance. Just like aging causes a loss of the sensory hairs in the cochlea, the cells in the vestibular system can also lose sensitivity due to aging.
Finally, it may be the case that hearing sounds around you helps keep you alert to your environment, preventing a fall. When you can’t hear well, you lose this awareness.
Improve Your Balance & Safety
While hearing aids have not been shown to improve balance in any clinical studies at this time, they certainly help keep you aware of what’s going on in your environment and can connect you to the world around you.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Evergreen Speech & Hearing Inc. today.