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Hearing Loss and Falling

(from Siemens brochure)

Many of the causes of senior citizens falling and injuring themselves are

preventable.  Physicians routinely advise their older

patients to exercise, have their vision checked, and monitor whether any

medications may cause dizziness. In addition to these commonly known contributors to

falls is untreated hearing loss, which has been linked in multiple studies to a significant

increase in risk of falls.  “People with a 25-decibel hearing loss

(classified as mild) were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling than

those with no hearing loss. Every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss meant an

increased 1.4-fold risk of falling.” Falls from hearing loss lead to injuries and

hospitalization. Falls are responsible for numerous injuries

and deaths among Americans 65 and older. Older people commonly experience brain

injuries, hip and other bone fractures after a fall. Beyond the human cost, these serious

conditions generate billions of dollars in healthcare expenses due to extended hospital

stays, surgical interventions, and related treatments. “One out of three adults (age 65 and older)

fall each year and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries.”

One of the most significant studies conducted to determine the connection between

untreated hearing loss and falls utilized data from the 2001–2004 cycles of the National

Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This survey has regularly collected health data

from thousands of Americans since 1971. More than 2,000 survey participants between

the ages of 40 to 69 had their hearing tested and responded to the question, “Have you

fallen during the past year?” Researchers also tested participants’ vestibular function in

order to determine if their balance was being affected by their hearing loss.

The lead researchers reported that people with mild hearing loss (25 decibels) were

nearly three times as likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10 dB of loss

hearing increased the likelihood of falling by 1.4. Even after other factors (age, sex, race,

cardiovascular disease and vestibular function) were considered, the findings held true.

The association between hearing loss and increased chance of falling is considered clinically

significant. Hearing loss decreases awareness of surrounding environment and

increases cognitive load. In turn, this raises the potential for falls.

Hearing loss and increased risk of falling.

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 link to falls:

• People who can’t hear well might not have good 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 gait, while straining to hear and

process auditory input

• Cochlear disorders may include vestibular dysfunction,

leading to poor balance

“…a possible causal pathway between hearing loss and falling

are intriguing because hearing loss is highly prevalent but

remains vastly undertreated in older adults.”

 

Hearing loss and increased risk of falling. Information for your patients.


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