Posted on Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Can Hearing Aids Improve Balance?

Rocks balanced on edge

A few years ago, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins and funded by the National Institute of Health, showed people who didn't hear that well had an increased likelihood of falls. This risk increased manifold with increased hearing loss. This information led researchers to wonder if hearing aids held the key to better balance for people with hearing loss. A small study seems to indicate this is the case and the use of hearing aids improves balance.

In a study by Johns Hopkins hearing loss was shown to affect people's balance, even when that hearing loss was considered in the mild range. It was strongly suspected that a lack of spatial awareness played a part in the increased likelihood of falls. Spatial awareness or how we recognize how far or close something is has a lot to do with our ears. The fact is that our ears hear distance in a way that most people aren't aware of and may even take for granted.

Recent research into how the ears and eyes work together to coordinate understanding of the physical environment has shown that the brain pairs up visual and auditory cues. The brain uses the ears and eyes to judge gaps between sight and sound that might seem instantaneous to us. The brain uses this information to form a perceptional shape of the environment.

How important are your ears to determining the significance of visual cues? Well an audio/visual study at University of Rochester reported on by NeuroScience News found, “Although humans are primarily visual creatures, our research shows that estimating relative distance is more precise when visual cues are supported with corresponding auditory signals. Our brains recognize those signals even when they are separated from visual cues by a time that is too brief to consciously notice.”

Researchers on the audio/visual study found that if they disrupted the audio/visual information, "participants were more likely to perceive it [an object] as more distant—even in cases when the object was actually shifted toward the participant."

Okay, so ears help people determine their environment in ways we are just becoming aware of, but does that mean that correcting hearing loss can aid someone's balance? Well, a very small study from Washington University School of Medicine that involved 14 people between the ages of 65 to 91 indicates hearing aids can help the balance of people with hearing loss. In fact, participants had better balance when they used their hearing aids compared to when they did not. The head of this study Dr. Timothy Huller, a professor of otolaryngology said, “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance."

If you'd like to learn more about your hearing loss speak with your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!


NeuroScience News
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