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Those who grew up without a bedside table lamp will identify with the nightly experience of turning off the light and stumbling around as they try to navigate a pitch-black room. This is tricky because being without an important sense such as your eyesight can have a serious effect on your stability. You’re required instead to lean on other senses to stay balanced as you make your way to the safety of the bed.
Research suggests that your hearing is subject to the same concept. Individuals with hearing losses may be less balanced than those with normal hearing.
How hearing and balance are linked
Hearing loss affects more than your ears. It can affect the way other parts of your body work. The ear is a highly complex organ that has several important jobs such as the processing and transmission of sound signals into the brain while as well as housing the vestibular system.
Together with the vestibular and the visual system, the body understands and co-ordinates in such a manner that means that passing objects aren’t blurred when the body is moving. The body’s muscles and joints help to keep your stance upright using special sensory receptors.
However, an issue in one of these systems can affect the balance of the individual when standing and walking.
In the past, hearing loss was not seen as the direct cause of the balance disorder, but rather problems with the inner ear that enable hearing and vestibular system were seen to be responsible. However, a ground-breaking recent study has finally posed a direct link between hearing and balance.
How hearing aids help balance
Research by the Washington University of Medicine found that our capacity to hear makes a significant difference to our capacity to preserve our balance. The research consisted of 14 students, all older adults with hearing loss. Tests were used to determine if their hearing helped to improve their sense of balance. The respondents eventually performed balance tests better while wearing their hearing aids than without. They remained stable on a foam pad for 10 seconds longer with hearing aids.
While this appears to be a negligible improvement, a closer look at the study shows how impressive it really is. When not wearing their hearing aids, many of these individuals were unable to remain balanced for more than 20 seconds. They were able to remain standing for longer after their hearing had improved through the use of hearing aids. This research, though small, is the first to demonstrate that sound itself can help us retain postural stability.
How untreated hearing loss leads to a loss of balance
While treated hearing loss can lead to improved balance, an untreated loss can increase the risk of accidental falls.
This link was demonstrated in a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. The researchers found that those with mild hearing loss were 60% more likely to experience injury and those with moderate hearing loss were at 70% of the risk. For those with severe hearing loss, they were 90% more likely to hurt themselves in a fall or accident. To come to their conclusions, researchers used data from a nationwide health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data featured accident reports of 232.2 million adults.
There are several explanations for hearing loss leading to more falls. When your hearing is compromised, your spatial awareness diminishes. There are a lot of ambient noises around us all the time, but we aren’t always aware of them. These sounds however help us position ourselves in the space we are in. Without this spatial awareness, we are more likely to bump into objects in our surroundings, to trip on steps on a staircase and simply feel more unbalanced, all of which can lead to a fall or accident.
Roseville Diagnostic Hearing Center
Hearing aids have the potential to keep you balanced and reduce the risk of falls and accidents. Are you ready to take charge of your hearing? Schedule a consultation with Roseville Diagnostic Hearing Center today!