Hearing Loss Linked to Increased Risk of Falling

A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that people with hearing loss are at a greater risk for falling.

Frank Lin, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, studied data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 through 2004, according to a news release. During those years, 2,017 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 years had their hearing tested and answered questions about whether they had fallen in the past year. The researchers also tested the participants’ vestibular function, in addition to collecting demographic information including age, sex and race.

They found that participants with a 25-decibel hearing level, classified as mild, were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4. The results remained the same even when the researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling such as age and vestibular function.

According to Lin, possible explanations for the association is that hearing loss may decrease a person’s awareness of his or her surroundings or increase a person’s cognitive load, overwhelming the brain with demands on its limited resources.

“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but that are actually very cognitively demanding,” Lin stated in the release. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”

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