Mild hearing loss impacts an individual’s life in many ways. It can make it difficult to participate in conversations, hear others in busy environments like restaurants, and make it harder to enjoy watching television. Perhaps the most dangerous effect of mild hearing loss is that it can triple the risk of falling1. For people over 65, falls present a significant danger and preventing them is of the utmost importance.
One out of every four seniors over the age of 65 falls each year and three million are treated in emergency rooms2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2:
- One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury
- Over 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of an injury due to falling – most often the injury is to the head or hip
- Falling once doubles the chance of falling again
Study #1 of Mild Hearing Loss: a 3 Year Study
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine3 interviewed 2,017 participants over the course of three years. Researchers asked them about falls and tested their hearing and balance. The results showed that people with mild hearing loss “were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling.” They also discovered that as hearing loss increased by every 10 decibels, it increased “the chances of falling 1.4-fold.”
Researchers can only theorize as to why mild hearing loss substantially increases the rate of falling. They suspect that some of the reasons include:
- People with hearing loss may not be completely connected with their environment, and auditory limitations may impair their ability to hear things like changes in walking surfaces
- Impaired hearing impacts balance and gait
- The brain experiences cognitive overload. In other words, as it tries to accommodate the hearing loss, it becomes overloaded with tasks and does not address balance and gait to the extent it should
Study #2 of Mild Hearing Loss: Poland
A second study4 conducted in Poland found that falls are more frequent among women, 22.7 percent versus 13.2 percent in men. In fact, almost 67% of participants aged 65 and over fell most frequently while walking compared to almost 51% of participants aged 55 to 59. These researchers also concluded that sensory impairment can contribute to falls.
Study #3 of Mild Hearing Loss: Journal of Aging and Health
A third study5 published in the Journal of Aging and Health found that hearing impairment increased the odds of falling. Researchers analyzed health data from 2,000 participants between the ages of 70 and 79 and discovered that those with hearing impairment had more than twice the risk of falling as compared to those with normal hearing, 9.7 percent versus 4.4 percent.
So, what can be done?
Thankfully, addressing hearing loss is easy and affordable. Hearing tests conducted by a trained audiologist can diagnose the type of hearing loss you have and determine the best hearing aids to address it. Hearing aids come in many different styles and sizes and advanced technology and miniaturization have made them sleek and compact. Some hearing aids are now so tiny that they can barely be seen in the ear.
Hearing aids are calibrated to fit your lifestyle needs and the environments you are in most commonly. The levels in some hearing aids can be adjusted manually. Others employ technology that detects noise level changes in the surrounding environment and automatically adjusts sound levels.
If you or a loved one has even mild hearing loss, have your hearing tested by a trained audiologist. The best audiologists will work hand-in-hand with you to select the best hearing aid for you and will provide the necessary adjustments and service you’ll need for years to come.