Hearing well is beneficial not only for its own sake, but it has many benefits for your overall well-being, too. Hearing aids have proven to improve many parts of the daily lives of people living with disabling hearing loss. Your mental health benefits when the brain is not fatigued from working harder to translate signals from sounds collected in the ear canal. Your social life will benefit because you will feel comfortable communicating with your loved ones and confident being in group settings. There is also a study that suggests hearing aids may improve balance for people with hearing loss and thereby prevent the risk of falls.
A small study published in The Laryngoscope journal from researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, found that patients aged 65-91 with hearing loss seemed better able to balance when they wore hearing aids. The study of 14 participants used standard balance tests to measure postural balance when the hearing aids in both ears were on and also when they were off.
Timothy E. Hullar, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine and senior author, says they do not think the improvement in balance was solely due to hearing aids helping the patients be more alert. In fact, he likened it to how our eyes tell us where we are in space. In darkness, we are less stable and tend to sway or stumble.
“This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance,” he states.
Does Sound Itself Helps Balance?
This small study is apparently the first to show that sound itself helps us maintain postural stability—as opposed to the balance system of the inner ear solely. While the participants underwent the balance tests, with and without the hearing aids switched on, white noise simulating radio static was played in the background.
One test saw the participants standing on a thick foam pad with their eyes covered. Another test, more challenging than the previous, had the participants standing heel-to-toe with their eyes covered. The researchers measured the length of time they could be still in these positions without needing to move their hands or feet to keep their balance.
Some of the participants were able to stand on the foam pad for 30 seconds or more, which is considered normal. They were able to do this whether their hearing aids were on or off. However, the participants who had trouble maintaining stable posture during that length of time performed better once their hearing aids were turned on.
And the improvement in balance was greater during the more difficult test. For the foam pad test, the average length of time for stability was 17 seconds with hearing aids switched off and almost 26 seconds with them switched on.
For the more challenging heel-to-toe test, the participants averaged 5 seconds in a stable standing position with their hearing aids switched off and 10 seconds with them switched on.
The Findings Are Promising
The researchers note that the findings are significant, even with the small size of the group. They also realize that one limitation of the study is that the participants could recognize when their hearing aids were on or off—and it could have influenced the results.
They did, however, try to balance this by randomizing the sequence. Sometimes the participants performed a test with hearing aids on first and then off for the second, and sometimes vice versa. They avoided a fixed pattern.
“This is a small study,” Professor Hullar notes, “Obviously it needs to be repeated in a much larger study, and we’re seeking funding to do that.”
Though humans rely heavily on vision, sound is a multi-directional sense. Our safety benefits greatly from our hearing health. During the study, the participants fared far better when their hearing aids were turned on. They were able to place themselves in space and be more alert. By extension, one can infer that walking, moving and sitting up are also improved with hearing aids. When all of these pieces fit together, someone is at less likely to experience dizziness or disorientation and risk injuring themselves.
If you think that you or a loved one is living with untreated, disabling hearing loss, schedule an appointment with us at Audibel to see if a hearing aid can help you regain balance in your life. The benefits to your overall health are many.