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For older adults, hearing loss and falls go hand in hand

William Even, Au.D.

DALLAS – July 5, 2022 – More than 1 in 3 Americans over age 65 will fall each year, according to the National Institute on Aging. In addition, approximately 1 in 3 individuals between 65 and 74 has hearing loss.  

Although these two statistics may not seem to share much in common, they are closely linked, said William Even, Au.D., a Faculty Associate and clinical audiologist in UT Southwestern’s Otolaryngology Clinic.

“It has long been known that some less common inner ear diseases can directly affect both hearing as well as balance,” said Dr. Even. “However, more recent research demonstrates a correlation between more common types of hearing loss and a risk of falls.”

Mild degrees of hearing loss can cause up to a threefold increased risk of falling, he added. Furthermore, as the degree of hearing loss increases, the chances of falling also increase.

Although the reasons for this linkage aren’t completely known, researchers have suggested that those with hearing loss may have decreased spatial awareness of the environment around them. Hearing loss also introduces an increased cognitive load as the brain struggles to interpret sounds, leading to fewer cognitive resources to help with balance and stability.

Appropriately fitted hearing devices can address these issues by increasing spatial awareness and reducing the cognitive resources applied toward hearing, Dr. Even said. Research has shown that hearing devices can improve performance on balance-related tasks.

To reduce their risk of falls, Dr. Even suggests that older adults should:

  • Begin with a baseline exam. Make an appointment with an audiologist to determine your current level of hearing or hearing loss.
  • Follow recommendations for hearing devices and follow-up exams. Based on each individual’s unique situation, an audiologist can recommend devices and adjust them for the best fit and personalized settings.
  • Continue wearing hearing devices consistently. Patients get the most benefit, Dr. Even explained, by wearing hearing devices as much as possible except when sleeping, showering, having their hair done, swimming, or in a dangerously loud environment.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.