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Hearing Health Blog

Hearing and Balance

April 19, 2018

Many of the causes of older adults falling and injuring themselves are preventable. Physicians may routinely advise their older patients to exercise, have their vision checked, and monitor whether any medications may cause dizziness, but they often neglect to advise their patients to have their hearing checked.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked in multiple studies to a significant increase in risk of falls. Researchers have determined that even a mild degree of hearing loss tripled the risk of an accidental fall, with the risk increasing by 140 percent for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss.

One reason for the increase is less environmental awareness to people, pets or other things going on around them. Spatial awareness — where the body is positioned in relation to other people and objects around it — could be another reason for increased falls. Many researchers also point to cognitive overload as a hindrance to balance. 

Simply put those with hearing loss use much of their mental resources to interpret speech and other sounds and have fewer resources left over to dedicate to maintaining balance. When it comes to health and safety, the importance of balance in older people cannot be underestimated.

  • Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in adults over the age of 65.
  • Fifty-five percent of all unintentional injury deaths for those aged 65+ in 2012–2013 were due to falls.
  • From 2000 through 2013, the age-adjusted fall injury death rate nearly doubled.
  • Twenty-nine percent of emergency department visits by persons aged 65+ were related to injury.
  • Unintentional falls accounted for 13.5 percent of those visits.
  • Medical costs from falls are about $30 billion a year. 

In further research, hearing aids made a definitive difference in balance. During heel to toe testing, for example, participants with their hearing aids turned on were able to maintain balance for twice as long as when their hearing aids were turned off. Results indicate that sound information alone, independent of the vestibular system, may play a larger role in maintaining balance than was previously thought.

More studies on the link between hearing loss and accidental falls are expected, but recent findings illustrate the need for annual hearing screenings beginning at age 55.

Regular hearing screenings could be just what your patients need to decrease the risk of falls, increase their longevity, and enjoy a better overall quality of life. 

Sources: Siemens, USNews.com, JAMA Internal Medicine, HealthyHearing.com, Center for Disease Control.

Hearing and Cognitive Decline

August 19, 2018

While it is well-established that untreated hearing loss can lead to an acceleration of cognitive problems, a recent study is the first to show that wearing hearing aids actually reduces cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. Conducted by researchers with the Université Victor-Segalen, Bordeaux 2 (UB2), Bordeaux, France, the study followed 3,670 adults, ages 65 and older, over a 25-year period and compared the trajectory of cognitive decline among those who used hearing aids and those who did not.

The study indicates that people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids have the same risk for age-related cognitive decline as people without hearing loss. Conversely, cognitive decline is accelerated for individuals who have hearing loss and don’t use

hearing aids. 

“For the first time, we have evidence that hearing aids are a prevention against accelerated cognitive decline in later years. That’s a powerful

motivator for the more than 75 percent of individuals with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids but are reluctant to address their hearing health,” says Donald Schum, Ph.D., vice president of audiology and professional practice for Oticon, Inc., one of the world’s largest hearing aid manufacturers. 

A number of studies have already shown correlations between hearing loss and greater risk of cognitive decline in older adults, including a pair of Johns Hopkins studies that found hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline and may also be linked to the onset of dementia in older adults.

“The transition from sound to meaning happens in the brain,” explains Schum. “When hearing is compromised, such as with hearing loss, the sound signal that the brain is accustomed to processing is different and it takes more effort to fill in the blanks. This is why hearing loss can be so tiring and can drain the mental energy people need for everyday activities.” As a result, individuals may withdraw from social interactions because it’s too exhausting to try to keep up. Once withdrawn, depression and other related health issues set in, which have long been recognized as increased risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Hearing loss is the most common chronic health condition affecting older adults. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:

  •  One in eight Americans (13 percent/30 million) ages 12+ has hearing loss in both ears.
  •  Among adults ages 70+ with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used them.
  •  Even fewer adults (approximately 16 percent), ages 20 to 69, who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.
  • •The typical patient waits an average of 7 to 10 years before seeking treatment for hearing loss.

“This study should be a wake-up call for people who are considering doing something about treating their hearing loss but have been delaying,” says Schum. “It’s not just about hearing well today; it’s about the long-term effects of untreated hearing loss.”

Sources: Businesswire.com; Brainhearing.com.

Hear In Pink Camapign

August 19, 2018

During October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we at Digital Hearing Lab (DHL) are combining our commitment to bring better hearing to our community with support for breast cancer awareness. We join with Oticon Inc., leading hearing care manufacturer, to promote the national “Hear in Pink” campaign. This annual campaign combines DHL’s commitment to hearing health with support for life-saving breast cancer research.  Read More