by Julia Evangelou Strait
December 12, 2014
Enhancing hearing appears to improve balance in older adults with hearing loss, according to new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Patients with hearing aids in both ears performed better on standard balance tests when their hearing aids were turned on compared with when they were off.
The small study, which appears in the journal The Laryngoscope, involved only 14 people ages 65 to 91 but is the first to demonstrate that sound information, separate from the balance system of the inner ear, contributes to maintaining the body's stability. The study lends support to the idea that improving hearing through hearing aids or cochlear implants may help reduce the risk of falls in older people.
"We don't think it's just that wearing hearing aids makes the person more alert," said senior author Timothy E. Hullar, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. "The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance. It's a bit like using your eyes to tell where you are in space. If we turn out the lights, people sway a little bit—more than they would if they could see. This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance."