Scientists have long understood the importance of our ears in our balance systems. There are three loops located in your inner ear that are all responsible to sensing certain movements. One senses up and down movements, one recognizes side to side movements, and one identifies tilting movements. These sensors in our inner ear along with our eyes and joint and muscles receptors all work in tandem to help us keep our balance.
We understand that our ears play an important role in our balance system, however, does our sense of hearing play a role in this system as well? A group of scientists out of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO aimed to find out. In this study, researchers tested the balance abilities of older adults both when they did and also when they did not use their hearing aids.
About the Research
This study was relatively small, with only 14 adults enrolled. The enrolled participants included both men and women, and all participants were between the ages of 65-91. On top of this, each participant also experienced at least some degree of hearing loss, and used hearing aids. In their publications, the researchers did not indicate how long the participants had been using their hearing aids prior to the study, or which hearing aid manufacturers were represented.
To collect data, researchers asked participants to complete two standard balance assessments, once with their hearing aids switched on, and once with them switched off. The first of the balance assessments involved tracking how long participants can stand on a thick foam pad with their feet together and their eyes blindfolded. The second test is even more difficult. During this test, participants are asked to stand on the floor with one foot in front of the other in a heel-to-toe manner. During this assessment participants were also blindfolded.
Results of the Study
After completing the assessments, the researchers compared the results and came to some interesting conclusions. For the first assessment – that involved standing on the thick foam pad – participants were only able to complete this task for 17 seconds on average when their hearing aids were turned off. When the participants attempted this task with their hearing aids turned on, this average number increased significantly, to 26 seconds on average.
For the more difficult heel-to-toe assessment, participants were able to complete this task for only 5 seconds on average without the use of their hearing aids. When their hearing aids were switched on, the average duration of the assessment increased to 10 seconds.
For each assessment, it was found that participants were able to complete the task for longer periods of time when their hearing aids were on than when they were off.
Shortcomings of the Study
It is always important to note any shortcomings a study may have. Firstly, this study enrolled a very small sample size, and the study should be reproduced with a larger group of participants. Although the sample size is quite tiny, the researchers assert that the results are indeed statistically significant.
The other shortcoming was that the participants were aware of whether or not their hearing aids were turned on. To try to combat this, the researchers randomized whether the participants first completed the balance assessments with their hearing aids on or off.
Overall, this is a very exciting piece of research that sheds light on the importance of the sense of hearing in our vestibular (balance) systems. To gain more insight into this study, please visit Medical News Today here.
Importance of the Study
Why does it matter whether or not hearing aids may help to improve balance? This is because balance is extremely important in keeping us safe – especially into older adulthood. When we have a healthy balance system, we are better able to navigate our environments and are less likely to experience trips and falls, that can be very dangerous to our health or even deadly. In fact, in the United States, an older American experience a fatal fall every 19 minutes, and “falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths” (source here).
Hearing Health in Portland
If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing, it is important to take a hearing test. The use of hearing aids brings significant benefits to your overall health and well-being. At Hearing Health, we provide comprehensive hearing health services. Contact us today to learn more.