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Losing your hearing means you could lose your footing: Study shows mild hearing loss triples risk of having a fall


The risk of falling rises threefold even with the mildest hearing loss, according to a study.
For moderate deafness, the chance of an accident doubles again – probably because such people have a poorer sense of their surroundings and are more likely to trip.
The researchers also suggested that the brain may not be able to focus on balance and gait when it is struggling with hearing.
The study at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, was based on the health records of more than 20,000 patients aged from 40 to 69.
Dr Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins, and his colleague Luigi Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging, used data from the 2001 to 2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The ongoing survey has gathered health data from thousands of Americans since 1971.
During those years, 2,017 people aged 40 to 69 had their hearing tested and answered questions about whether they had fallen over the past year.
Researchers also collected personal information, including age, sex and race, and tested participants’ vestibular function, a measure of how well they kept their balance.


The findings show that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss - 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 fold, says a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.
A further 20-decibel hearing loss over the ‘mild’ classification would push up the risk by threefold again.

This finding still held true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function.
Even excluding participants with moderate to severe hearing loss from the analysis didn’t change the results.
Dr Lin, a hearing specialist and epidemiologist, says among the possible explanations for the link is that people who can’t hear well might not have good awareness of their overall environment, making tripping and falling more likely.
He said another reason hearing loss might increase the risk of falls is cognitive load, in which the brain is overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources.
‘Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding’ he said.
‘If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait’ he added.
A report last year found falls may be costing the NHS in England up to £4.6million a day - a total of £1.7billion a year.
Around 14,000 people die annually after a fall.
Figures from Action on Hearing Loss charity show that two million people in the UK have hearing aids but only 1.4 million use them regularly and a further four million people who don’t have aids would benefit from wearing them.
Crystal Rolfe, Head of South East region and Senior Audiologist at the charity said ‘The functions of hearing and balance are both located in the inner ear - in the cochlea and semi-circular canals.
‘There are some conditions in which people have both hearing and balance problems which can cause falls i.e. Meniere’s disease. There is still much research that is needed into the link between hearing and balance.’


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