While it’s a common expectation that older adults are more prone to falling, many are unaware of the risk of accidentally tripping over something increases significant by even the slightest loss of hearing? That’s right: a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of falling.
This staggering fact was revealed by a study for which the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine partnered with the National Institute of Aging. They assessed the hearing and vestibular functions of mature adults between the ages of 40 and 69 and found that for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the chance of falling increases by 140 percent.
But why does a decreased ability to hear affect a senior’s safety so drastically?
The Dangers of Difficult Hearing
Gradually decreased hearing is identified as one of the most common consequences of aging, affecting roughly one third of seniors between the age of 65 and 74. Still, the elderly are often embarrassed to admit it while their younger relatives just shrug their shoulders, saying that “it’s normal at your age”. Writing off hearing impairment as just a ‘minor nuisance’ is a huge mistake since it has a strong impact on the senior’s overall safety.
For example, mishearing the doctor’s instructions could lead to drug overdosing. Navigating the streets or, even worse, driving will become a dangerous undertaking because they will receive less sensory input from their environment. Adults that are hard of hearing aren’t even safe in their own home: even if the building is protected by smoke and CO detectors, unless the device emits a special low-frequency signal it’s likely that the resident won’t hear the alarm. On top of all this, difficult hearing attracts other safety hazards as well, of which the dreaded falling is one of them. So it’s clear that hearing loss is not an insignificant threat to the elderly, linking directly to the likelihood of a falling, an accident, or danger as a result of three major factors…
Top 3 Reasons Behind the Link
The link between hearing impairment and falls can be surprising, but researchers discovered that there are actually numerous reasons why these two factors correlate with one another:
- Not being able to hear other people – and even pets – around you decreases your environmental awareness, resulting in an increased risk of getting caught off guard and tripping over something.
- Spatial awareness – the ability to distinguish the body’s position in relation to other objects in the room – decreases with age. So, for example, not hearing whether someone is positioned behind or to the left or right of you can cause you to misjudge which way to move and perhaps bump into them.
- Since older adults hope to avoid such scenarios, hearing deficiencies also cause them to pay more attention to their surroundings and try to devote more mental energy to reading lips or trying to pick up fainter noises. Unfortunately, cognition declines with age, too, and concentrating this intensely can ironically lead to distracting seniors from other concerns, enough that they cannot maintain their balance or become unaware of other environmental dangers.
Can Hearing Aids Solve the Problem?
After discovering how these reasons directly cause a link between hearing impairment and the risk of falling, researchers then investigated whether or not hearing devices could nullify this increased risk. Luckily, the results were reassuring.
In complex situations, test subjects relying on hearing aids performed much better than those without it. This test proved that being able to rely on more aural information not only helps people better position themselves among their surroundings, but it also allows them to maintain more mental capacity to keep their balance.
It’s also interesting to note that many of the people in the study who became aware of the link between hearing problems and falling paid more attention to their movements as well.
Medical Alarm Systems for the Hearing-Impaired
Those suffering from bad hearing need an extra safety net in case they trip and find themselves on the ground. Luckily, medical alert systems offer special fall detection pendants with built-in accelerators that detect sudden changes in height, activating an emergency call in such a situation even if the wearer is unconscious.
Medical alarm systems serve hearing-impaired seniors in several other ways as well, most notably with the monitoring team. In addition to speaking loudly and clearly through the base station, the 911-trained agents can access an extensive medical file of the senior so that they’re aware of the fact that the person in need suffers from hearing problems, helping them to act accordingly.
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