Impact of hearing loss balance and risk of falls in the elderly

Over the past month I have had discussions with a number of elderly hard of hearing patients having balance problems. What seems to be a common thread is that the patients feel that their medications may be influencing/exacerbating the problem. Blood pressure medications are the most commonly mentioned. Generally, there has been a report of dizziness described as difficulty maintaining balance, feeling lightheaded when getting out of bed or rising from a seated position, and unsteady gait. Balance impairment puts these patients at risk for falls; a major cause of injuries in the elderly, some resulting in death.

Making matters more concerning is that some of these patients have memory impairment. Instructions to get up or change position slowly are often forgotten. I have had several patients forget to use their canes or walkers. Some of this may be attributed to memory loss, some to not wanting to give up independence or not wanting to appear as old or frail.

The development of a higher regard for personal safety needs to be reinforced in the elderly. Clearing potential obstacles from common pathways and walking around rather than over obstacles can reduce the risk of falls. Accepting that the use of canes and walkers for maintaining balance is important to avoid injury. More caution must be taken in carrying out daily activities. Something as seemingly simple as putting on a pair of pants while standing can be risky for those with balance problems.

In some cases, impaired hearing may influence retention of instructions regarding personal safety. A common statement is that conversations can be heard but not understood. Verbal instructions cannot be remembered if an individual did not hear and understand them. Hearing loss may increase risk of falls; warnings may not be heard about hazards in the environment. Dementia, isolation, and depression have been linked to hearing loss. These potentially debilitating issues can result in decreased awareness and concern for personal safety.

Impaired hearing is a common health issue in the elderly. At Gardner Audiology, we work to remove barriers to better hearing. We can assess your hearing and make recommendations on how to improve your hearing and your quality of life.

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