Study: Hearing aids and correction of balance disorders

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© Ramon Cami - Fotolia

A recent study indicates that hearing aids may be a novel treatment option for imbalance in older adults with hearing loss, and suggests that this may offer significant benefit for avoiding falls.

Vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive inputs are known to play a role in balance but the contribution of auditory input has not been clearly demonstrated. Researchers from the Department of Otolaryngology, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (USA) aimed to examine postural stability in bilateral hearing-aid users over 65 years of age in aided and unaided conditions. Study participants were tested for balance using the Romberg on-foam test and the tandem stance test.

It was found that performance was significantly better in the aided than the unaided test conditions. “We don’t think it’s just that wearing hearing aids makes the person more alert,” says senior author on the study Dr Timothy E. Hullar. “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance. It’s a bit like using your eyes to tell where you are in space. If we turn out the lights, people sway a little bit - more than they would if they could see. This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance.”

The authors say that this was a small study (14 participants) and that the hypothesis should be tested further in a much larger number of patients. If the relationship between corrected hearing and balance is confirmed, this could be important for reducing falls in the elderly population, a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The results of the study were published recently in the journal The Laryngoscope.

Source: Rumalla K, et al. The Effect of Hearing Aids on Postural Stability. Laryngoscope. 2014 Oct 24; Medical Xpress.

C.S.