Are you feeling a little less confident when it comes to navigating stairs or uneven terrain?
Your hearing could be at the root of your dizziness, vertigo, or feelings that you’re unsteady on your feet.
The Journal of the American Academy of Audiology recently published a study by Joseph Sakumura, AuD, and Richard Gans, PhD, revealing that hearing loss puts you at a greater risk of falling.
Why is this something that you need to pay attention to?
According to the CDC, falls are responsible for over 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths annually in the United States.
There Are 3 Conditions That Increase Your Risk of Falling
The multidisciplinary study explores the roles of cognitive, vestibular, and auditory functions as they pertain to fall risk management, identifying three conditions that increase your risk of falling:
- Hearing Loss. Those with hearing loss have a three times higher risk of falling than those with normal hearing.
- Cognitive Impairment. Even mild cognitive impairment leads to a 14 times higher risk of falling due to deteriorating postural stability.
- Vestibular Dysfunction. Vestibular dysfunctions translate into a 12 times greater fall risk.
How Hearing Loss Leads to Cognitive Decline
At first, you may assume that hearing loss leads to your lowest risk of falling (only three times the risk), but hearing loss has a significant impact on cognitive decline.
The number-one modifiable risk factor for cognitive decline is hearing loss, according to the study. Furthermore, “patients with even mild cognitive impairment in domains of; visuo-spatial processing, executive function, memory recall, and reaction times are 14 times more likely to have degraded postural stability and elevated fall risk.”
The authors of the study note that hearing loss is the number-one “modifiable” risk factor to cognitive decline, so addressing your hearing loss is the most effective way to reduce your risk of falls.
How Vestibular Dysfunction Is Related to Your Ears
The vestibular system contributes 85 percent of the sensory information needed to keep you balanced.
Your vestibular system includes hairlike cells located in the inner ear. Deterioration and damage to these tiny cells lead to permanent sensorineural hearing loss and reduce the cells’ capacity to deliver the sensory information that helps you maintain your balance.
Unfortunately, you may also have additional negative health conditions that affect the vision or somatosensory functions that are associated with the vestibular system, further amplifying your risk of falling.
Why Treating Hearing Loss and Balance Disorders Is Essential
Treatment for hearing loss and balance rehabilitation therapy are two of the most important ways to decrease your risk of falls.
Various studies have proven that hearing aids help improve both balance and cognitive function, including a study by the City University of New York (CUNY) in 2021 noting that improved balance and decreased frequency of falls come from the use of hearing aids.
Another study in 2015 at Washington State University demonstrated that participants performed better in balance tests with their hearing aids on and worse when they were switched off.
According to Sakumura and Gans, balance retraining protocols, such as vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT), also contribute significantly to reducing your fall risk.
Hearing Exams and Balance Testing
If you’re concerned about your risk of falling or that of a loved one, consider that improving your auditory function, cognitive health, and vestibular function will help improve your ability to maintain your balance and prevent falls.
Hearing exams, hearing technology, balance testing, and VRT are among the tools available at Fox Valley ENT to help you keep your balance, prevent falls, and give you greater confidence as you go about your day-to-day routines.
If your hearing, balance, or cognitive function is something you’re concerned about, we’re eager to help. Click here to request a callback from a member of our team or call us directly at the Algonquin, Elgin, Huntley, or St. Charles location nearest you.