Hearing Loss Linked To Falling
Hearing loss has been linked to a wide range of health problems, in addition to social challenges.
Now a new study finds that subjects who have a hearing loss are three times more likely to fall than their peers who reported no hearing loss.
Study investigator Frank Lin, an assistant professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, and his colleague Luigi Ferrucci, of the National Institute on Aging, noted a correlation between subjects who reported at least a "mild hearing loss" of up to 25 decibels, and the frequency of falls.
Lin and Ferrucci found that people with a mild hearing loss 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. The study's finding still held true even when investigators accounted for 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.
The study utilized data from the 2001 to 2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This research program has periodically gathered health data from thousands of Americans since its inception in 1971.
The researchers' findings are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Lin suggests that the reason for the strong correlation may be the fact that individuals with hearing loss could have a compromised sense of awareness in their overall environment, making tripping and falling more likely. Another reason hearing loss might increase the risk of falls, Lin says, 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 said. "If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait."
Dr. Frieda Toback, Director of Audiology at McGuire's Hearing Aids and Audiological Services, agreed with Dr. Lin's assessment. "We recognize the importance of taking a thorough history for each patient we see and of updating that history at least once a year. Information regarding falls and unsteadiness is very important to us. Statistically, at least 50% of visits to the primary care specialist by people over 65 are due to complaints of unsteadiness," she observed.
"This very important research by Dr. Lin reiterates the need to examine the whole person, not just the complaint. We hope that physicians will address the observations Dr. Lin made and treat hearing loss as a significant factor in patient well-being both physically and psychologically," Dr. Toback concluded.