Hearing loss increases the risk of serious falls – a major public health problem for seniors, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.
Researchers, reporting in the Archives of Internal Medicine, said their findings could help doctors develop new ways to prevent falls, especially in the elderly, and resulting injuries that cost billions of dollars in health care costs in the United States each year.
The Johns Hopkins team noted hearing loss has been linked with a variety of medical, social and cognitive ills, including dementia. But to determine whether hearing loss and falls are linked, Dr. Frank Lin and colleagues tracked information from the federally funded National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2004.
More than 2,000 people -- ages 40 to 69 – had their hearing tested and answered questions about falls as part of the survey. Researchers found people classified with mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling.
Those with more severe hearing loss were even more likely to have experienced a fall.
This was true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race and heart disease.
Lin said it's possible that people who can’t hear well might not have good awareness of their overall environment, making tripping and falling more likely.
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” Lin said. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health.