We typically associate hearing loss with things like not being able to hear the doorbell ringing or finding it hard to focus on a conversation in a noisy room. However, research indicates that hearing loss also dramatically increases the likelihood of falls and accidents.
Researchers writing in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery first alerted the world to this somewhat surprising finding. Their number-crunching revealed that those who reported significant hearing loss seemed to be much more likely to get involved in accidents than those without, particularly when engaged in work and leisure activities.
What is the connection?
One theory is that people with hearing loss are not able to hear potential hazards in their environments. Lack of function in their ears means that they do not instinctively pick up audible cues that might alert them to danger.
For those with normal hearing, the brain interprets dangerous sounds unconsciously and responds to them automatically. Often this happens without the patient even realizing it. But when the machinery of the ear starts to fail, that process no longer occurs, leading to an increased probability of an accident occurring.
The fact that injuries appear to increase during both work and leisure activities is another interesting finding. It seems that when people switch off to the threats in their environment and relax more, the risk of injury goes up.
The magnitude of the effect of hearing loss was dramatic. The study crunched data records from more than 232.2 million people, 15% of whom had reported hearing problems. Respondents rated their hearing from causing them a lot of trouble to excellent which the researchers then correlated with accident data.
They found that people with somehearing trouble were around 60% more likely to get involved in accidents, and those with a lot of trouble were more than 70% more likely to injure themselves.
What we have here, therefore, is a convincing dose-response relationship – the type of thing researchers look for when trying to establish cause and effect. The greater the degree of hearing loss, the more likely people are to have a trip or fall.
How to solve the problem
Research consistently finds that people underrate the severity of their own hearing loss. Furthermore, it takes the average person around 10 years to seek assistance and take advantage of it.
Because of this, far fewer people are wearing hearing aids than should be. And that’s leading to unnecessarily high accident rates among the hard of hearing. Ironically, we have been able to solve the problem of dangerous hearing loss for some time. It’s just that the message hasn’t got out.
Improving the current situation, the researchers claim, could be done by conducting more hearing tests and providing patients with hearing aids. Wearing a hearing aid would restore their ability to respond to the sound environment around them, reducing the likelihood of trips and falls.
An even better solution might be to wear two hearing aids at once. That’s because today’s modern devices can synchronize with each other to detect and represent sound direction, just like healthy, functional ears.
Hearing aids may also play an important role in correcting the balance. Washington University School of Medicine, for instance, found that the mere perception of sound made it easier to stand upright. Hearing aid users were better able to stand on one leg than those who did not use them.
How to identify hearing loss
The first step to treating hearing loss is determining whether or not you have developed an auditory issue. Hearing loss can present in a variety of different ways – both gradually and suddenly – making it critical to recognize the symptoms as they develop. Individuals experiencing hearing loss may notice any of the following signs:
- Difficulty hearing in group conversations and settings
- Turning up the volume on the radio or television
- Problems hearing clearly when having a phone conversation.
- Trouble hearing women or children
- Complaining of others mumbling when talking to you
- Asking friends and family to repeat themselves
Hearing loss can be caused by numerous factors, ranging from your age to loud noise exposure. If you begin to notice any of the above symptoms, it’s time to schedule an appointment with an audiologist to have your hearing evaluated.
Get your hearing tested
If you’re worried about a trip or fall, you should prioritize getting your hearing tested. It could reduce your chances of injury.
At Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology, we provide full hearing tests to determine the precise nature of your hearing loss. Call at (661) 253-3277 today to book a consultation or arrange a test.