A small study has found that older individuals with hearing loss may find their balance improves when they are fitted with hearing aids. The research suggests that hearing aids do not only assist with hearing, but also help reduce the risk of falls.
The researchers, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, recruited 14 people with hearing loss between the ages of 65-91 and administered standard balance tests to measure their balance with hearing aids switched on and switched off.
Interestingly, they discovered that participants were able to balance better when their hearing aids were switched on. Study author Timothy E. Hullar, a professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine, said, “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance.”
To explain this further, Professor Hullar compared it to how we use our eyes to determine our spatial position. When it’s dark and we can’t see, we tend to sway a little more and become a bit less balanced.
One of the tests participants completed required them to stand on a thick foam pad with their eyes covered. In another test, participants had to stand with one foot in front of the other heel-to-toe, again with their eyes covered.
Participants who had difficulty maintaining stability on the foam pad performed better when their hearing aids were turned on. The average time of stability was 17 seconds with hearing aids turned off, and almost 26 seconds with them switched on. The improvement in balance was greater in the more challenging tests.
Although the study was very small, the authors note that these differences in balance are statistically significant. It is reportedly the first study to demonstrate that sound itself helps us maintain postural stability, not just the balance system of the inner ear.
Do you find you can balance better with your hearing aids turned on? Tell us in the comments below.