A very small study conducted by the folks at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, found that older persons with hearing loss were able to balance better when their hearing was enhanced with the use of hearing aids.
The study, as published in The Laryngoscope journal, was the first of its kind to show that the ability to hear affects balance, as opposed to the balance only being affected by the workings of the inner ear.
The 14 participants, aged 65-91, completed standard balance tests both with and without their hearing aids. During the balance tests the researchers played white noise in the background. The tests measured the postural balance with and without the hearing aids.
According to senior author Timothy E. Hullar, professor of otolaryngology as Washington University School of Medicine, says that the study does not indicate that the balance improvement was related to (or just because) the hearing aids also helped the participants be more alert.
Some of the tests the participants were asked to to complete were standing on a foam pad with their feet together and with their eyes closed and standing on the floor with one foot in front of the other (heel-to-toe) also with their eyes closed. In these positions, the researchers timed how long the participants were able to maintain the postures (without needing to move their arms or feet to help with balance) with and without the hearings aids on.
It was considered normal to be able to stand steadily on the pad for 30 seconds or more, and some participants could to this with and with the hearing aids. Others, who had trouble maintaining balance on the pad without their hearing aids experienced significantly better results when their hearing aids were turned on.
In the foam pad test, the average time of steady balance was 17 seconds without hearing aids and nearly 26 seconds with the hearing aids on. That’s a gain of almost 9 second or an improvement of almost 50%. For the more difficult heel-to-toe test, the average time without hearing aids was five seconds and with hearing aids was 10 seconds. That’s a 5 second gain and a 100% improvement!!
Those differences are statistically significant regardless of the small size of the study. The authors also acknowledge that one limitation in study was that the participants could tell when their hearing aids were off an when they were on. It’s possible that this could have influenced the study but they did try to offset this by introducing an element of randomization. They varied whether the participants started with the hearing aids in the off position or in the on position…there was no fixed patter.
“This is a small study,” Prof. Hullar notes, “Obviously it needs to be repeated in a much larger study, and we’re seeking funding to do that.”
Of course, the average persons conclusion from this small study is that hearing aids could be helpful for elderly persons for more reasons that just hearing. Falls are the leading cause of brain trauma in the elderly. How big is the falling problem?
- One out of three older adults (those aged 65 or older) falls each year1 but less than half talk to their healthcare providers about it.
- Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.
- In 2013, 2.5 million nonfatal falls among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 734,000 of these patients were hospitalized.3
- In 2013, the direct medical costs of falls, adjusted for inflation, were $34 billion.
If you or someone you know may be needing a hearing test, just pop on over to our free hearing screening to see you you might need a more comprehensive exam by a caring audiologist.