March 2, 2012

Hearing Loss Tripling Your Risk of Tripping?

(Ivanhoe Newswire)-- Maybe you've tripped over a rock or slipped on a wet surface, we've all fallen but did you know that now hearing loss may be what is causing those falls?

By discovering the link between hearing loss and falls, researchers could develop new ways to prevent falls, especially in the elderly, as well as the injuries that are caused by falling. Not only will preventing these injuries save the pain associated with them but they could also save billions in health care costs each year.

To determine whether hearing loss and falling are connected, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins, and his colleague Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging, used data from the 2001 to 2004 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This research program has periodically collected health data from thousands of Americans since the early 1970s.

During that time period, 2,017 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 had their hearing tested, then answered questions about whether they had fallen over the past year. Researchers also gathered demographic information, including age, sex and race, and tested participants' balance.

Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Ferrucci found 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. This finding still held true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function.

Lin is an otologist and epidemiologist, and she believes that the link is when people who can't hear well have a limited awareness of their overall environment, accounting for more tripping and falling.

Another reason hearing loss might increase the risk of falls, Lin adds, 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," Lin was quoted as saying. "If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 2012