Treating Hearing Loss as a Means of Fall Prevention
Fall Prevention Month
September is Fall Prevention Month, which is a cause that is important to the audiologists at Sonik Hearing Care Services. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among older adults, and one in four people aged 65 or older fall every year. Falls can negatively impact both your physical and mental health, so it is important to be active in reducing your risk of falling in whatever ways possible. While physicians routinely advise patients to exercise and have their vision checked as means of fall prevention, it turns out that having your hearing tested is a huge factor in reducing your risk of falls!
Studies show that people with even a mild hearing loss in one or both ears are three times more likely to have a fall compared to people with no hearing loss. Considering one in three people over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss, it’s clear that hearing loss is a far more common factor in falls than we often consider in healthcare.
Hearing Loss and Falls: What’s the Connection?
There are several reasons hearing loss is connected to increased risk of falling. Below are a few of the primary factors:
1. Hearing loss increases your “cognitive load,” which leaves less resources for maintaining balance.
Your “cognitive load” is the amount of information your brain can process at one time. When your brain is overloaded, it must shift resources away from certain tasks to focus on the most important activities at hand. Since hearing well is so important for your overall survival, untreated hearing loss forces the brain to divert resources away from your balance system in order to make more energy available for speech understanding. This diversion of resources away from maintaining balance and gait increases your risk of falling
2. Hearing loss reduces participation in social activities, which increases isolation.
Untreated hearing loss restricts your ability to participate in social activities. Even missing only a few words or pieces of conversations reduces your engagement in the activity itself, or even worse discourages you from continuing to participate in the activity at all. This results in increased social isolation, which has been shown to negatively impact both mental and physical health. Keeping your mind sharp and your body physically fit are both important in fall prevention.
3. Hearing loss decreases awareness of environmental sounds.
Your ears and brain are constantly scanning your environment and using sound as information to keep you tuned into the events occurring around you. Hearing the full range of environmental sound is crucial to keeping you alert and safe. For example, if you are walking on a busy sidewalk and someone is attempting to pass you, they may say “excuse me” in order to avoid a collision with you as they pass. However, if you are unable to hear properly, you may suddenly step into their path as they pass, resulting in a collision and fall.
4. The cause of your hearing loss may also affect your balance system.
There are a number of pathologies that can affect both your hearing and your balance because the organs responsible for these functions are both located in the inner ear. The cochlea is your hearing organ and it is connected to the vestibular system, which helps maintain your balance. For some people, the disorder that causes hearing loss also causes balance issues. Therefore, if you suspect you have hearing loss, it is important to see your audiologist for a complete evaluation.
Treating Hearing Loss for Fall Prevention
If you suspect you have hearing loss, you should see an audiologist for a full audiological evaluation to determine the type and severity of your hearing loss. The results of the evaluation will help determine the best course of treatment. For example, conductive hearing loss may be treated with medical intervention, whereas permanent sensorineural hearing loss is treated with amplification (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Your audiologist will work with you to recommend the best treatment options for your hearing loss and lifestyle.
If you end up being someone who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, our audiologists make sure to see you for several follow-ups after you are fit with amplification. We want to make sure you are adjusting well to the devices and feel completely confident in your ability to use them independently. Our main priority at Sonik Hearing Care Services is to increase you quality of life, and we are happy to take as much time as is needed to improve your hearing health.
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