September 23nd might be the first day of fall, but it’s also Fall Prevention Awareness Day. According to the CDC, falling is the number one cause of injuries (and deaths from injury) among older Americans. But how are falls and hearing loss connected? The answer might surprise you.
In a 2012 landmark study by Johns Hopkins, researchers 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. A study from Washington University in St. Louis showed that patients who wear hearing aids in both ears did better on balance tests when their hearing aids were turned on than when turned off. Keeping your hearing healthy could be a major component of fall prevention as you get older.
Falls by the Numbers
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- More than 25,500 deaths every year are caused by falls.
- Falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly.
- Injuries from falls are the main reason people end up in a nursing home.
- One-third of Americans age 65+ fall each year.
- Every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall.
- Falls result in more than 2.5 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually.
- Falls lead to over 734,000 hospitalizations per year.
- Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $34 billion annually.
The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages and may reach $67.7 billion by 2020. Falls, even ones that do not cause significant injuries, such as a broken hip, can still have a negative impact on quality of life as we get older. Fear of falling can lead to an avoidance of new people and places, adding to isolation, frustration, and depression.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
Putting off regular hearing tests is a simple mistake many of us make that can increase our risk of falling. According to Dr. Frank Lin, author of the John Hopkins study, hearing loss might increase the risk of falls due to cognitive load, leaving the brain overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources. “Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” notes Lin. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
Even after safety-proofing your home, the decrease in sensory feedback from the ears to the brain can also contribute to stumbling, an overall lack of balance, and potentially dangerous falls without any obvious obstacle, cause, or explanation. So, if your hearing test shows you need hearing aids, investing in them sooner rather than later is a good idea.
Hearing aids are designed to assist with processing sounds that may have been taken for granted in the past, like the sound of footsteps on different flooring surfaces and how that sound differs between hard and soft soled shoes. Pets underfoot, throw rugs, wet floors, and slippery stairs are only part of the equation (for other helpful home tips, check out these suggestions from Porch.com). Being able to process those sounds often helps hearing aid users keep their balance.
The First Steps to Fall Prevention
When it comes to fall prevention, make the most of your cognitive abilities. Take your hearing health seriously. Protect your hearing now and get your hearing tested in regular intervals. Select hearing aids that best fit your lifestyle and budget. And wear them. You’ll be happier and safer if you do.
Enjoy a more balanced life through better hearing. MDHearingAid stands behind every one of our FDA-approved hearing aids with a 45-day risk-free in home trial.
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