Later this month - specifically, September 23 to 29 - the medical and caregiving communities will observe Fall Prevention Awareness Week. This is important because in the United States alone, more than one in four older adults fall each year. And the estimated medical cost of these falls across the healthcare system is $50 billion annually.
This is an incredible cost and a high number of people who are at risk of suffering from an injury. And these numbers have driven experts to study falls in-depth in the last decade, in an effort to improve fall prevention and care.
Studies have been revealing, even finding that treatment of fall risk factors may reduce the risk of falls by 9 – 20%. However, there’s a catch: a lack of knowledge of fall risk factors can also be viewed as a risk factor for falls. In other words, without proper knowledge of fall risks, caregivers are likely to fall short on caring for those at risk of suffering from a fall.
To date, common interventions for those at risk (i.e. who struggle with balance, who suffer from chronic illness or pain, live with vision impairment, etc.) include strength and balance training, sufficient intake of vitamin D and calcium, and smoking cessation. But we can do more. We can, and should, identify people who are at a higher risk of falling due to additional factors. We should then treat their factors.
Including hearing loss.
Why Does Hearing Loss Affect Our Standing And Balance?
Our ability to hear and our ability to stand are both things we tend to take for granted - and seem like very distinct abilities. Yet researchers have repeatedly observed an association between hearing loss and falls. Why?
One possible reason is that a dysfunction in either the cochlear organ (which receives sound) or the vestibular sense organs (which are necessary for balance) may affect the other by association. This is possible because they share a location within the bony labyrinth of the inner ear.
Decreased hearing sensitivity may also directly limit access to auditory cues that are needed for environmental awareness. In other words, when we can’t hear, we have a harder time orienting ourselves.
What Exactly Does Research Say About Hearing Loss And Falls?
People with mild hearing loss are 3 times more likely to have a history of falling than people with normal hearing.
This makes hearing loss a very underappreciated fall risk factor. It’s also a major factor, as those with hearing challenges may have:
- Poor posture and less balance, which detract from their ability to safely stand and walk. (Studies further show that when we take away auditory input and environment sounds, our bodies begin to sway and we lose our center of balance.)
- A reduced capacity for attention to their surroundings, due to their straining to hear.
- Less of an ability to process sensory cues that normally help with spacial orientation and hazard avoidance.
How Do We Address Hearing Loss As A Fall Risk Factor?
The good news is that while observing these issues, researchers have also found that treating hearing issues addresses the fall risk they create. Specifically, wearing hearing aids provides a significant improvement in balance and a decreased risk of falling among older adults with hearing loss.
Here’s the catch: unless patients express a specific concern about falling, many medical professionals do not conduct a full fall risk screening or evaluation. As a result, fall prevention often falls on individuals and their families - and medical experts only step in after a fall has occurred.
Hearing Unlimited, we believe primary and secondary prevention of hearing loss should be a priority when aiming to minimize falls and/or promote health and well-being among older people. If you or a family member are interested in learning more about utilizing our care services for these purposes, please please reach out to us online or by phone today. Following your first contact, we can conduct a proper hearing test and begin to make recommendations to address any hearing loss, mild or major. We can also provide more information on the association between hearing loss and falls, and help you work to avoid this serious hazard.