Hearing loss triples the risk of falls, according to a study undertaken by Johns Hopkins University. It found that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) were nearly three times more likely to have fallen than those with no hearing loss. Every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss resulted in an increased 1.4-fold risk of falling.
Rearchers analysed data from more than 2,000 people aged between 40 to 69 who took part in a U.S. health survey from 2001 to 2004. The participants had their hearing tested and answered questions about whether they had fallen in the past year.
The findings held even after researchers accounted for other factors associated with falling, such as age, sex, race, heart disease and balance.
People with impaired hearing don’t have good awareness of their overall environment, which makes them more likely to trip and fall, according to the study author Dr Frank Lin, who is an assistant professor at the university’s School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It might also be that with hearing loss, the brain becomes overwhelmed by the demands on its limited resources, he said.
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding.If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
The Johns Hopkins University study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on 28 February 2012.