Many of the causes of older adults falling and injuring themselves are preventable. Physicians may routinely advise their older patients to exercise, have their vision checked, and monitor whether any medications may cause dizziness, but they often neglect to advise their patients to have their hearing checked.
Untreated hearing loss has been linked in multiple studies to a significant increase in risk of falls. Researchers have determined that even a mild degree of hearing loss tripled the risk of an accidental fall, with the risk increasing by 140 percent for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss.
One reason for the increase is less environmental awareness to people, pets or other things going on around them. Spatial awareness — where the body is positioned in relation to other people and objects around it — could be another reason for increased falls. Many researchers also point to cognitive overload as a hindrance to balance. Simply put, those with hearing loss use much of their mental resources to interpret speech and other sounds and have fewer resources left over to dedicate to maintaining balance. When it comes to health and safety, the importance of balance in older people cannot be underestimated.
• Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in adults over the age of 65.
• Fifty-five percent of all unintentional injury deaths for those aged 65+ in 2012–2013 were due to falls.
• From 2000 through 2013, the age-adjusted fall injury death rate nearly doubled.
• Twenty-nine percent of emergency department visits by persons aged 65+ were related to injury.
• Unintentional falls accounted for 13.5 percent of those visits.
• Medical costs from falls are about $30 billion a year.
In further research, hearing aids made a definitive difference in balance. During heel to toe testing, for example, participants with their hearing aids turned on were able to maintain balance for twice as long as when their hearing aids were turned off. Results indicate that sound information alone, independent of the vestibular system, may play a larger role in maintaining balance than was previously thought.
More studies on the link between hearing loss and accidental falls are expected, but recent findings illustrate the need for annual hearing screenings beginning at age 55.
Regular hearing screenings could be just what your patients need to decrease the risk of falls, increase their longevity, and enjoy a better overall quality of life.
Please share this information with your patients, along with encouragement to seek regular hearing screenings or treatment for known hearing loss as part of an overall wellness plan.
Sources: Siemens, USNews.com, JAMA Internal Medicine, HealthyHearing.com, Center for Disease Control.