Prevent falls due to untreated hearing loss this winter
Snowy winter weather can be both beautiful and burdensome, depending upon your perspective. But for people with hearing loss, icy and snowy conditions can be especially concerning. While people in general are more likely to fall during the winter due to unsalted sidewalks and hidden sheets of ice, people with hearing loss are more likely to fall than others.
In fact, in a recent study, otologist and epidemiologist Frank Lin, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that hearing loss is a risk factor for falling. He used data from 2,017 participants ages 40 to 69 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database that examined their balance, assessed their hearing and asked whether or not they had fallen in the past year.
Through this database information, Dr. Lin determined that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss - a mild hearing loss - were three times as likely to have a history of falling than other people. For every 10-decibel increase in hearing loss, a person's chances of falling increased 1.4 fold.
Dr. Lin hypothesized that this is because people with untreated hearing loss might not have the best awareness of their environment, making tripping on something and falling more likely than for others. Also, hearing loss adds a cognitive load - it takes a lot of work to try to hear and to focus on hearing, and Lin said this might take away from focusing on other tasks:
"Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding," Lin said. "If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait."
Also, balance problems and hearing loss are related, though one does not usually cause the other. People with Meniere's Disease, which affects both hearing and balance, are especially at risk.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself and reduce your chances of slipping and falling during the winter: