Hearing aids can aid more than hearing – they may improve safety by preventing falls by older adults with hearing loss.
According to recent research by Timothy E. Hullar, professor of otolaryngology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, older adults with hearing loss have better stability using hearing aids than when not using the devices.
According to Huller, wearing hearing aids doesn’t just make individuals more aware of their surroundings, it allows them to automatically use sound information from their hearing aids as “auditory reference points” that can be used to maintain balance. In addition, past research may indicate that hearing loss might increase the risk of falling in older adults.
Dr. Huller and a group of researchers tested a group of adults averaging 77 years old in which they performed two balance tests: one in which they stood on a foam pad with their eyes closed and the other standing one foot in front of the other. The patients were challenged to see how long they could keep their balance without opening their eyes or moving their arms or feet for balance (up to 30 seconds). These tests were done two times: one time using the hearing aids and one time without.
In both the foam and the heel-to-toe test, the patients overall performed better while wearing their hearing aids.
In the first test, 4 of the 14 patients could balance for a full 30 seconds with and without hearing aids. The others had an average of 17.1 seconds of balance without the hearing aids and an average of 25.7 seconds with them (nearly one-and-a-half times longer).
In the second test, patients balanced for an average of 4.6 seconds without hearing aids and average of 9.9 seconds with them (over two times as long).
Although these results demonstrate the importance of hearing aids and their place in the safety of older adults with hearing loss, this study involved very few adults and further research is needed.