We might not think of our normal five senses as being that important to balancing our bodies. We know there is a special organ, the labyrinth, nearby the inner ear that helps orient us in relation to gravity. However, if you’ve ever flicked off a light and then tried to navigate through the dark, you might realize that sight is important to our sense of balance. As it turns out, hearing also plays an important role in our ability to stay upright.
Our brain takes in more information than we can imagine from our senses. It all happens so effortlessly that it’s easy to take it for granted until we find one or more of our senses impaired.
A Study Found that Hearing Ability Affects Balance
While the sample size was small (14 people), the results were fairly convincing in a study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine. Peer review and replications of the experiment with more participants are likely to confirm the results.
Researchers asked the participants, all elderly people with measured hearing loss, to balance on a foam pad. With hearing aids in place, the participants were able to balance an average of 10 seconds longer than without. While that might not seem like much, 10 seconds is monumental considering they were simply standing still. Imagine the advantage when a person is moving around, using environmental cues to orient their body all the while.
The results suggest that hearing aids, as we suspected, are an important part of safely maintaining mobility as we age and begin to lose our hearing ability. We know that hearing loss affects sociability, interpersonal relationships, and general mobility, and this study further suggests that the ability to balance while walking is one piece of the puzzle as to why untreated hearing loss seems to have a deleterious effect on our activity levels.
More directly, the study provides evidence that hearing aids help to prevent us from falling down, and thus reduce our likelihood to suffer injuries. Falling down presents a greater likelihood of serious injury as we age, and long recoveries can be a catalyst for decreased physical activity even after we are healed.
Why Hearing Aids Help
By amplifying the sounds in our environment, hearing aids help our brains to keep better track of where we are in space, and allow our conscious minds to focus more intently on whatever task may be at hand. This makes us much more comfortable as we go about our lives, and makes us more inclined to take on activities like going for a walk outside or engaging in our work or hobbies.
We have known for a while, thanks to MRI imaging studies, that hearing loss over-stresses our frontal cortex whenever we encounter human speech. A task that is normally handled automatically by our brains (hearing speech) requires extra effort as we try to piece together fragments of speech into coherent thoughts. It stands to reason that other “background tasks” performed by our brains will suffer when sensory information is limited. This problem related to hearing loss may even play a role in earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.
When we wear hearing aids, the world becomes richer and our brains are automatically provided with more information to keep them active and going strong. That translates to less fatigue and a greater inclination toward all different kinds of activity. While we may not realize at first just how much hearing loss is impacting so many areas of our lives, those who get hearing aids, after one year, report satisfaction with them at a rate of over 94%, and many attribute hearing aids to improvements in their relationships, activity levels, and general sense of well-being.
Better Hearing Than Ever Before
Modern hearing aids are incredibly powerful instruments. Using multiple microphones and speakers as well as powerful DSP (digital signal processing) that integrates both hearing aids, the hearing aids of today do an even better job of helping us localize sounds in space. This should translate to even better balancing ability once the phenomenon is subjected to further study.
If you’re having trouble hearing and are not yet wearing hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and start treating your hearing loss. There are more reasons than you might imagine why hearing aids will improve your life!