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Whether you’re new to Chicago or you’ve lived here all your life you know the snow and ice that blankets the ground through the winter months can be both beautiful and dangerous. The snow can make it particularly hard to get around and also increase your chance of falling. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that hearing loss raises the risk of falling.

The study conducted by Frank Lin M.D., Ph.D. used data collected from over 2,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 assessing their hearing and balance issues. The research team determined that people with a mild hearing loss (25 decibel 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.

Hearing loss and balance issues

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. So it may seem obvious that hearing and balance are related. However, the results of the study held true even when researchers excluded participants with inner ear balance system problems. Dr. Lin hypothesizes that the reason that hearing loss raises the risk of falling is due to cognitive overload. You brain is working harder than it should to hear, taking away your focus from other tasks.

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.

Hearing aids help

A recent study conducted at 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 the snowy, slippery weather we recommend:

  1. Wear 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.