People often underestimate the health effects of untreated hearing loss. When hearing issues continue, they can lead to a higher risk of depression and isolation. Also, heart disease, memory loss, and fall injuries increase. The link between hearing loss and balance issues isn’t certain, but a new study is helping us better understand how the two are connected. The results of the study also show a link between using hearing aids and improving balance. It highlights a new benefit of treating hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Balance
Part of what that new research show is a direct connection between how we hear and how we balance. Washington University School of Medicine looked at 14 participants. They found that it is likely we use sound cues to understand how to balance. They asked participants to balance on a piece of foam. This was done both with and without the use of hearing aids.
A normal balance for someone with healthy hearing was measured at 30 seconds or more. Some of the participants could maintain normal balance levels. In contrast, many found it hard, especially without hearing aids. Without hearing aids, those in the study averaged 17 seconds of balance. Those using hearing aids raised the average to 26 seconds, near-normal levels. The researchers believe this shows sound has a large role in our spatial sense. Also, our ability to hear and determine the direction of sounds help us gauge our own body.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Strain
Another way that hearing loss limits our ability to balance involves a connection between hearing loss and mental strain. When we deal with hearing loss, one of the key changes it causes in the body is an increase in the amount of mental labor we perform.
The ear picks up sounds. The brain receives them. Most hearing loss involves a decline in our ability to detect sound waves. When our ears can’t pick up the entire sound, an incomplete signal is sent to the brain to be interpreted. Our brain is left to fill in the blanks, using context clues and partial sounds to decipher the meaning from sound.
When our brain does this a few things happen. First, our mental processes shift away from typical listening patterns. The mind literally has to create a new way to listen. Second, hearing requires more labor. This means you spend more time, energy and focus on the process of hearing. This changes the way we spend our mental resources, taking attention away from other important mental tasks.
While we are processing sound, we are shifting our attention. Thus, straining our attention to balance and coordination. This is a big reason why people with untreated hearing loss suffer fall injuries at a much higher rate than the general population. Untreated hearing loss is often responsible for distracting us from other basic aspects of mental functioning, making coping with unaddressed hearing loss tiring and frustrating.
Why Hearing Aids Matter
Both the Washington University study and research into the impact of untreated hearing loss point to a factor that can improve balance: the use of hearing aids. Hearing aids help bring back a broad range of sound, making it easier to pick up on the cues we use to maintain our body’s equilibrium. Hearing aids also make understanding easier which relaxes the stress hearing loss puts on our mental performance.
When researchers at Washington University asked subjects to balance themselves in a more challenging position than simple standing the effect of hearing aids came into clear focus. Standing heel-to-toe, people averaged 5 seconds of steady balance without the use of their hearing aids. With the use of hearing aids, that average time doubled to 10 seconds showing what an effect sound processing can have on our physical coordination.
If you are facing hearing concerns, the best time to address them is right now and Hearing Group can help. We service at nine locations in Kansas and Oklahoma to make exceptional hearing healthcare easy to access. With patient-focused service, we personalize your hearing solutions to your needs and help you connect with life-changing hearing care. If you?re ready to reap the benefits of treating hearing loss, contact us today!