Hearing Loss and Fall Risk

Alan Desmond
September 4, 2012

Researchers at John’s Hopkins have recently published a study that links hearing loss to increased risk of falling. This information needs to be viewed from multiple perspectives. First, it adds to the list of consequential or associated issues that patients with hearing loss may suffer. Second, despite several different “risk factor” lists from several different specialty societies, this is the first time hearing loss has appeared. Third, how do we react? What do we do with this new information?

“In the study 2,017 participants ages 40 to 69 had their hearing tested and answered questions about whether they had fallen over the past year. Researchers also collected demographic information, including age, sex and race, and tested participants’ vestibular function, a measure of how well they kept their balance. 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.”

The author of the study, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. supports what we thought all along: that someone with hearing loss is less aware of their surroundings, less likely to hear someone/something approaching, and thus may be startled when it/ he/ she enters their field of vision. Also, we know that the elderly don’t multi-task as well as younger people, and dealing with hearing loss gives them one more thing that they have to deal with. According to Dr. Lin “Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding. If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”

Next week we will dissect this a little further