How Can Hearing Loss Result in a Fall Injury?
A full transcript is included below
How can hearing loss result in a fall injury? That’s our topic today on Ask the Hearing Doctors.
Hi, I’m Jim Cuddy and this is Ask the Hearing Doctors, and I’m joined today by Dr. Ana Anzola, doctor of audiology and principal of Hearing Doctors, the Washington D.C. area’s highest rated audiology practice with over 2,500 5-star reviews. Also joining us today is Dr. Keith Darrow, certified dementia practitioner, audiologist, and neuroscientist, studying how the brain ages and what role hearing plays in the process. Anna, Keith, great to see you both.
Thank you very much.
So, hearing loss and falling, how prevalent is hearing loss to falling?
Sure. So, here are the staggering statistics, right? So, you know, when it comes to hearing loss, there’s like different degrees. That’s how most people think of it. Mild, moderate, moderate, severe. For every degree of hearing loss, your risk of falls increases an additional 140%.
So, from mild to medium to whatever, however many steps you want to make it.
And you don’t want the hot. That sounds, I mean … just … that’s astounding that it’s that high.
It is. But when you really stop and think about it, right? There are three systems that play a role in our balance, right? So, obviously our vision, can we see everything around us? Obviously, our feet on the ground. But then hearing is also a major component. And as hearing goes, so too does the balance organ in the ear. And so with age, we’re at a really significantly increased risk of falls. And what’s really scary is that falls are the number one cause of injury-related deaths in older adults. And most people think, “Oh no, it’ll never be me.” But when a person falls, it can cost the average family $30,000 just to re-outfit their home. People end up staying in the hospital. If female, you’re five times more likely to undergo surgery. If you fall once, you’re more likely to fall again. And really, even though those statistics are pretty scary, I think what most people really worry about is falling can lead to a loss of independence.
The loss of hearing, there’s self-isolation, there’s all of these things. But I would think falling would have to be obviously the most dangerous. I mean, what could happen when somebody falls because of this? For people to understand this better, if I have a really bad cold, head cold and that kind of thing, and I get one clogged up ear and all of a sudden I’m a little off, I may not have a hearing problem at that point, but that’s what people are going to be suffering from.
That’s a good analogy, right? We typically tell people, I’ll ask, “Have you fallen in the last twelve months? Are you concerned about falling? Do you feel lightheaded or any dizziness or feel like you’re drunk, but you haven’t been out drinking?” Right? So, if you’ve got any of those things, you are at increased risk of falls. And really, the most important thing to do is to figure out the role of the balance system. And that’s why I know Dr. Ana and her team at Hearing Doctors have really taken on the financial and the educational investment in bringing on balance assessment at the practice.
So, we believe in this so much that we actually have it in three of our centers. We have partnered up with the American Institute of Balance, and it is so critical for patient outcomes to really understand and for us to really know how to help them and educate them, their family members, our professional doctors that we work with on a regular basis, our physical therapists. So, we have a network of professionals that we work with on a regular basis so we can pinpoint exactly what’s going on. Is it the cochlear? Is it the balance? Is it that they need a little more vestibular balance therapy or something like that? That’s really going to hone in into what the problem is, how to fix it, how to mitigate it, and just really move forward, because my job as an audiologist, I can’t have patients complaining about falling. That’s not normal.
I’ve heard you say before that falling is not normal. In fact, falling is considered preventable, right? But you’ve got to look at all these factors. You’ve got to figure out the role that hearing plays in it. And if you have a hearing loss, you’ve got to treat it because even though the statistic is staggering about an additional 140%, well guess what? If you treat your hearing loss, you can nearly eradicate that increased risk. So, just by treating your hearing loss. But then there are other factors to consider. And I know that you talk to your patients about medications, vision loss, right? Balance is a holistic thing. And for you to bring it in and to be a center of specialty care, I think it’s a really big deal. And a reason that you’ve got 2,500 5-star reviews is because so many people appreciate your approach to overall healthcare. Not just hearing loss, not just balance, just the overall perspective of helping older adults live the fullest quality of their life.
And improving the quality of life. It’s their well-being, is their mental health, is their emotional. It’s really learning more about what part of the brain or the ear, how all this is interconnected. And so we spend a lot of time educating ourselves. So, thank you for the education too because it plays a big role.
Well, I think it’s very important to point out that going and seeing an audiologist, let’s say, okay, I’m just gosh you know, I’m missing things, my grandkids, I can’t I miss stuff, whatever. For whatever reason, you’ve got to go and get your ears checked. But when you go to see you, one of the other hearing doctor’s offices, it’s not just, we’re going to test your hearing, you’re asking a lot of questions. You need to find out. You’re finding out about that person and how they live and their whole lifestyle. That’s key because that’s going to allow you to perhaps point them to another you know what? Maybe you need to go see a neurologist or somebody else, right? I mean, that’s part of this. It’s not just, can you hear this beep in this ear and this beep in that ear? There’s a lot more to it.
Yeah, our life is a little bit beyond the little beeps in a booth.
Look, I think the best way and a lot of people I think don’t necessarily understand this, and so sometimes they don’t see the value not only in their hearing, but what does an audiologist do? And I think it boils down to if you read the literature, if you look at the evidence based outcomes, there are five medical benefits to treating hearing loss, right? We know the obvious one which is increased quality of life. For patients living with tinnitus or tinnitus, we can reduce that experience. Well, we also know that it increases cognitive performance by expanding memory and processing speed and selective attention. We’ve talked about how treating hearing loss can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in dementia. And here’s number five to stick with our topic. Treating hearing loss significantly reduces your risk of falls, which falling can lead to a loss of independence. And so it’s really important to understand how valuable your hearing really is to your overall life.
And just a hearing test can avoid that first fall, and it could be as simple as that for you to avoid other problems. Great information. Dr. Ana Anzola, Dr. Keith Darrow, thank you both very much. I appreciate it.
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