Add preventing falling to the list of reasons to get a hearing aid if your hearing starts to wane.
New research from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus suggests that people with even mild hearing loss are at more than double the risk of falling. And falls are a leading contributor to death in people who are older.
A new study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society says older adults with hearing loss are nearly 2 1/2 times as likely to fall compared to peers with good hearing — a problem that costs more than $50 billion a year and can lead to severe health consequences and even death.
The researchers found that people with hearing loss who use hearing aids had half the odds of experiencing a fall, compared to those who did not correct a hearing deficit. After adjusting for age, sex, hearing loss severity and medication use, those who used a hearing aid still had lower odds of falling compared to nonusers.
Those who consistently wear hearing aids have even lower odds of falling, “suggesting a potential dose-response relationship.
“The reduction was even greater among those who wore hearing aids at least four hours per day. The effect size is pretty significant,” Laura Campos, an audiologist and researcher at UCHealth in Colorado and the study’s lead author, told NPR. “These consistent hearing aid users had even lower odds — up to 65% — of falling.”
She said more work was needed to figure out why hearing aids reduce falls so drastically and why hearing loss contributes to them.
The study is not the first to suggest that correcting hearing problems has health benefits that go well beyond making it easier to hear what’s going on around you.
Last July, William Even, faculty associate and clinical audiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern's Otolaryngology Clinic, said that a third of Americans 65 and older fall each year, based on National Institute on Aging numbers. He said the risk of falls increases with the degree of hearing loss. He suggested having a baseline hearing exam and following recommendations for hearing devices. If you need one, he said, wear it consistently.
Health Living notes a number of reasons that hearing loss can increase the risk of falls:
- Hearing taps your brain reserves.
- Aging affects hearing as well as balance.
- Sound helps with balance.
- Hearing loss and mood are linked.
Johns Hopkins University has reported that hearing loss also increases the risk of dementia. Again, the degree of loss matters. “Those with severe hearing loss may have five times the risk of those with no such loss.”
“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” said Dr. Frank Lin, in a Johns Hopkins Medicine brief. “Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”
In a study led by Johns Hopkins University researchers that was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine a decade ago, Lin and his colleague, Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, of the National Institute on Aging, noted the importance of identifying modifiable risk factors for falling. And they said that a report on older Finnish female twins showed a “strong association” between hearing loss and falls — a pathway they called “intriguing because hearing loss is highly prevalent but remains vastly undertreated in older adults.”