Researchers have found an intriguing link between the risk of falling and hearing loss.
Among aging populations, falls are a major health hazard. A stumble that might lead to just a painful bruise in a younger person can result in a broken hip, disability, and even death in older adults.
Researchers analyzed data from an ongoing U.S. health study, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
Lead author Frank Lin, of Johns Hopkins University, said he and his colleague, Luigi Ferrucci of the National Institute on Aging, compared measurements of hearing loss in adults age 40-69 with participants' response to questions about any recent falls they might have had.
"And what we found is that someone's hearing ability is directly related to their chances of having falls in the past year," Lin said. "For someone with just even a mild hearing loss compared to normal hearing, they basically had about a three-fold increased chance of having falls over the past year."
Lin's study found a strong association, not cause-and-effect. But why might hearing loss contribute to falling? He says there are several possibilities.
Poor hearing could make people less aware of the environment around them. Or it may be linked to another function of the ear, specifically the inner ear, which isn't used just for hearing.
"It actually helps you maintain balance; so it provides balance information to the brain. But in the current study, we actually accounted for someone's balance ability, and we still saw this association between someone's hearing abilities and their chances of having falls over time."
Lin's findings, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, confirm several previous studies that have probed the link between hearing loss and falls.