Reduce Your Fall Risk

Age related changes in the inner ear can affect your hearing and your balance. Impaired hearing is one of the most common conditions in older adults. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it affects 75% of those age 85 and older. It can make communication difficult and cause social isolation and depression; but, its effects can also can be more physical, because the inner ear is closely associated with balance – a fact underlined by recent research associating   hearing loss with walking difficulties that increase the risk of falls.It’s normal with aging to experience a decline in both hearing and the balance nerve cells located in the inner ear. The latter control balance by providing ongoing feedback via nerve signals to the brain about the head’s motion and position relative to gravity. Studies have shown that the reduction in the number of nerve cells in the vestibular system of the inner ear begins at about age 55. There can also be a decline in the nerve cells of the cerebellum – an area of the brain that is involved in balance and posture – and the brain stem, which receive   those signals. In spite of any other health factors that may be involved, the   study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society does show a correlation between hearing loss and walking difficulties.

Taking steps to preserve your hearing could potentially improve your balance and help you avoid the walking difficulties that could put you at risk of falls. If you are suffering from dizziness or unsteadiness that affects your balance, consult with your doctor who can take steps to ensure that your vestibular system is functioning properly.

UCLA   Medical Center, Division of Geriatrics

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