Hearing loss can greatly affect all aspects of people’s emotional well-being. It is also important to recognize how much our physical abilities to navigate the world around us depend on our abilities to hear. There is in fact a direct link between untreated hearing loss and the risks of falling down and/or having other accidents—this is an especially high risk for older people.
Leading researchers at institutions such as Johns Hopkins have improved our understandings of how hearing loss contributes to the risk of falling and other physical ailments. They have also shed light onto the increased risk of cognitive issues such as dementia that are associated with hearing loss. The more information you have about the connections between hearing loss, falls, accidents, and cognitive disorders, the more equipped you will be to understand the need to address untreated hearing loss, to continue to adjust whatever hearing assistance devices you use, and to be evermore aware of your surroundings.
The Link Between Hearing Loss & Falls
There are a few reasons why hearing loss is linked to the risk of falls. When someone loses the fullness of their hearing, their awareness of their surroundings diminishes. There are many ambient noises that we encounter every day, but we don’t necessarily notice them. This can include the movements of our pets throughout our home and the sounds objects make when they are moved. These sounds shape our awareness of where we are in a space. When someone loses their hearing, they do not necessarily catch these sounds, meaning that their overall spatial awareness can diminish. Without a rich spatial awareness, there are more opportunities to run into objects, to miss stair steps, and to simply become unbalanced—all of which can lead to falls.
Hearing Loss & Balance
There is an important link between hearing and balance, and when hearing becomes disrupted, balance can be greatly affected. Some researchers believe that people with hearing loss devote more energy to simply hearing and interpreting sounds and conversations. As this energy is directed toward the difficult task of hearing, people’s brains do not necessarily have the resources left to dedicate to maintaining balance. There are other, physical reasons why hearing and balance are connected.
The three canals in our inner ears (called semicircular canals) control side-to-side movement and tilting movements, which are sensed when the fluid and hair cells inside each of the canals send information to our brain through the acoustic nerve. Other parts of the inner ear communicate to our brain about where our head is when we are still. So inner ear problems, disruptions in how our canals are working, for example, are also problems for our overall sense of balance—resulting, of course, is an increased risk of falls.
Reducing the Risk for Falls and Accidents
There are precautions you can take to decrease incidents of falls and accidents. The first is to simply keep moving and keeping your muscles strong. Sometimes, people experiencing hearing loss, especially early in the process, can feel too intimidated by complex environments and retreat into themselves or prefer to simply stay home. The more you are out in the world, understanding how your hearing loss does and does not affect your abilities to engage with your surroundings, the better. Now would be a good time to take up exercise regimens that will strengthen your lower body and your legs, in particular. This can include balance training activities such as Tai Chi and yoga. Regular and long walks, however, can work wonders as well.
There are things you can do in your own home to decrease the chance of falling, such as being sure that any stairways are soundly constructed, investing in railings for your shower and toilet area, switching to bright lightbulbs throughout the house, and using high contrast colors to distinguish areas that require different kinds of footfalls—such as being sure that your staircase is a vastly different color than the wall paint.
Treating Hearing Loss
It is also important to take care of your body’s other senses that are important to maintaining balance. This is the time to get an eye exam and to get any necessary vision care to ensure that you have the strongest vision possible. If you take medications, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about any risks of dizziness that they might induce, and which would contribute to greater risk of falling.
And of course, treating hearing loss helps you stay safe in your surroundings. It is recommended that people over the age of 50 have an annual hearing test. If a hearing loss is detected, our team at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions will work with you to find the best treatment to meet your needs. To schedule a consultation, contact us today.