According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people over 65. Falls can cause moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas, and can increase the risk of early death.
Fortunately, falls are a public health problem that is largely preventable. The CDC suggests these steps as a start:
- Exercise regularly. It is important that the exercises focus on increasing leg strength and improving balance and that they get more challenging over time. Tai Chi programs are especially good.
- Ask their doctor or pharmacist to review their medicines both prescription and over-the counter to identify medicines that may cause side effects or interactions such as dizziness or drowsiness.
- Have their eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year and update their eyeglasses to maximize their vision. Consider getting a pair with single vision distance lenses for some activities such as walking outside.
- Make their homes safer by reducing tripping hazards, adding grab bars inside and outside the tub or shower and next to the toilet, adding railings on both sides of stairways, and improving the lighting in their homes.
The suggestions above are all important however one additional step toward fall prevention that we rarely read about is the effect of hearing loss on balance. Medical News Today recently published an article pointing to a Laryngoscope journal report about hearing and balance. A small study conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, related how the researchers found that older patients with hearing loss seemed to have better balance when their poor hearing was enhanced with hearing aids.
Senior author Timothy E. Hullar, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine, was interviewed about the study. Hullar says they do not think the improvement in balance was just due to hearing aids helping the patients stay more alert.
He said that the participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance.
Hullar said that if we turn the lights off, we tend to sway a bit more than we do when we can see. “This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance,” he explained.
This study involved people with varying amounts of hearing loss. The people were tested with and without their hearing aids. According to the study, in the challenging heel-to-toe test (standing with heal to toe and covering eyes), the participants, on average, were able to stand steady for 5 seconds with their hearing aids off and 10 seconds with them turned on.
What is the takeaway for seniors and caregivers?
Remember that hearing is a vital part of balance and balance problems cause many elderly people to fall. These falls are not minor. A broken hip can be fatal.
if you are having trouble convincing a loved one to wear his or her hearing aids, consider passing on this information. If your elder understands the connection between hearing and falling, you may get your point through. If the hearing aids are not satisfactory then the person should have another hearing exam. This isn’t about vanity, it’s about safety, quality of life and even life itself.
Check with your loved one’s doctor about appropriate exercises to increase balance. Tai chi, as mentioned above, is safe for most mobile seniors and can be beneficial to the brain as well as for balance. Tai Chi is a time proven practice that many elderly people find enjoyable and relaxing, all the while reaping exceptional health rewards.
Don’t let time pass before getting a hearing test or convincing someone you love to wear his or her hearing aids. Also, try to work on balance in general. Since lack of balance has been connected to Alzheimer’s, as well, we can’t ignore the importance of hearing loss.
Paddock, C. (2014, December 18) Balance in older adults may improve with hearing aids. Medical News Today. Information contribution from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287180.php
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.