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The snow and ice that comes and goes through the winter months in Missouri can be both beautiful and dangerous. The snow and ice can make it particularly hard to get around and also increase your chance of falling. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with the National Institute of Aging found that hearing loss increases your risk of falling.

The study collected data from participants between the ages of 40 and 69. It assessed their hearing and balance and noted whether they had fallen in the past year. The research team determined that people with a mild hearing loss (25 dB loss) were three times more likely to have a history of falling. As the level of hearing loss increased so did the risk of falling.

Balance is a fairly complicated process involving several parts of the body. A crucial portion of our balance system is found in the inner ear. The results of the study held true even when researchers excluded participants with inner ear balance system problems. The Johns Hopkins study hypothesized that the reason hearing loss increases your risk of falling is due to cognitive overload. Your brain is working harder than it should to hear, taking away your focus from other tasks.

Hearing Aids Can Help

Falls are actually a serious public health issue. According to the CDC every 15 seconds an older adult is taken to the emergency room for a fall. This data does not mean that folks with hearing loss should remain shut away in their houses during the winter months. A recent study conducted at St. Louis’ very own Washington University found that hearing aids had a positive impact on the balance of people with hearing loss. The study required subjects aged 65 to 91 to perform various balance tests with their hearing aids switched off and then again with them turned on.

The Washington University study is the first to show that sound helps us maintain stability, not just the balance systems of the inner ear. “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.”

To avoid slipping and falling, especially during this snowy, slippery weather we recommend:

  1. Wearing your hearing aid if you need to be walking around outside. If you don’t currently have a hearing aid consider getting your hearing tested.
  2. Exercise regularly – improve balance and coordination.
  3. Talk to your doctor about medications that may cause dizziness.
  4. Utilize railings.
  5. Have your vision checked.
  6. Recruit a family member or friend to shovel and salt your walkways.