Do Hearing Aids Improve Balance?

balanceA couple of years ago, I published a post on this blog about a study connecting hearing loss with increased risk of falls. My angle in the post was “Maybe there is a connection, maybe there isn’t, but what should we do with this information?”

Researchers at Washington University of St. Louis decided to investigate whether balance could be improved by treating those with hearing loss with hearing aids. They were specifically interested in whether hearing (in addition to vestibular, visual and proprioceptive) feedback contributed to improved performance on simple balance function testing.

Patients underwent two simple balance tests: the Romberg (eyes closed on foam) and tandem stance (heel to toe) with eyes closed. Throughout the test period, the patients were provided with what is described as “a point-source broadband white-noise sound (0–4 kHz).” Balance was assessed both with and without hearing aids in place.

The study did show that balance performance was improved, both objectively and subjectively, when hearing aid wearers had their hearing aids on and functioning. As noted by the authors “This is a small study. Obviously it needs to be repeated in a much larger study, and we’re seeking funding to do that.”

This is interesting on many levels: It helps support the idea of an association between hearing loss and increased fall risk, and it adds one more potential treatment option in the battle to reduce falls in the elderly. It will be more interesting to see where this research takes us.

Photo courtesy of http://www.trees-asso.fr/archives/1874

About Alan Desmond

Dr. Alan Desmond is the director of the Balance Disorders Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center, and holds an adjunct assistant professor faculty position at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. In 2015, he received the Presidents Award from the American Academy of Audiology.