Falling Risk and Hearing Loss

Falling Risk and Hearing Loss

Winter is here and with that comes snow and ice. The risk of falling is certainly greater this time of year but did you know your hearing may also be playing a role?

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently gathered data regarding causes of injury among seniors. It was discovered that falls are the most common reason for hospital admissions for seniors and the leading cause of injury among Canadians 65 years and over. Every year between 20% and 30% of Canadian seniors experience one fall.

A study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the U.S. examined thousands of patients aged 40-69 who answered questions about their hearing and whether they had a fall in the last year. Participants underwent a hearing test and had their balanced assessed. Results were quite surprising: those with a mild (25 dB) hearing loss were three times more likely to have a history of falling compared to those with no hearing loss (normal hearing). Additionally, for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss, the risk of falling increased 1.4 times!

Why is this the case? A possible reason is that individuals with hearing loss often have impaired environmental awareness, increasing their chances of tripping and falling. Another reason may be due to increased cognitive load, meaning the brain is overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources. Maintaining balance and gait is something many of us take for granted but those tasks are quite cognitively demanding. Hearing loss can impact one’s cognitive load, resulting in less resources available for maintaining balance.

Falling and fall-related injuries are quite serious. Injuries affect the individual, their quality of life and their family members and loved ones. If you or someone close to you is concerned about falling, see an audiologist to have your hearing assessed. If a hearing loss is discovered, there are treatments available that can improve quality of life and decrease the risk of falling.

Curt Culford, M.Cl.Sc. Aud, Reg. CASLPO Audiologist