When hearing goes, balance and falls follow

Falls—the leading cause of injuries and death among older adults–and a list of other problems can be related to poor balance brought on by loss of hearing, something the American Academy of Audiology wants people to understand and do something about it.

“We know that there’s a direct link between untreated hearing loss and falls,” said Angela Shoup, the academy’s president. While some balance disorders are incurable, faster and more accurate diagnosis through an exam by an audiologist, along with effective treatment and coping strategies, can greatly improve quality of life, she added.

Vertigo and dizziness, often associated with hearing loss, are linked to depression, anxiety, panic disorders, fainting or light-headedness, nausea, and imbalance. Vestibular symptoms and dizziness afflict an estimated 30 percent of people older than 60, and almost half of people over 85 have dizziness and balance challenges along with related symptoms. According to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, individuals with untreated mild hearing loss are more likely to have a history of falling. Other reasons for falling include medications, vision loss, diabetes, and heart disease.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 48 million Americans have some form of hearing loss and that one-fourth of Americans 65 or older suffer falls each year, resulting in more than 3 million injuries requiring emergency treatment annually–including over 850,000 hospitalizations and more than 29,000 deaths.

“Despite these statistics, falls are not a normal part of aging, and they can be prevented,” said Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) Center for Healthy Aging. “We believe it is a team effort to empower all older adults to reduce their risk.”

More information on hearing loss and finding an audiologist is at www.howsyourhearing.org. Information on fall prevention is available from NCOA at ncoa.org.