Study to test whether hearing aids can help prevent falls

February 6, 2013, University of Texas at Dallas

UT Dallas researchers are recruiting patients for a new study aimed at determining a connection between hearing deficits and the likelihood of falls.

The research project, a collaboration between The University of Texas at Dallas and UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, is evaluating how much hearing aids and other technologies might improve balance and prevent falls for people with auditory problems.

One-third of fall each year, according to recent national studies. The resulting injuries can be life-threatening.

A person's relies heavily on the of the inner ear, as well as on information gained from the senses of sight, touch and hearing. Previous research on falls has focused on the roles played by visual, cognitive or . But recent studies suggest that people with also may be at greater risk of falling.

More than half of adults over the age of 65 experience hearing loss. About 65 percent of them seek no treatment.

The study will help identify people at risk of falling and evaluate the effects of different types of hearing aid technologies on balance and gait. Subjects with and without hearing loss, while wearing or not wearing the hearing aids, will be monitored as they stand, walk and perform routine daily tasks while repeating words or sentences that are played in the surrounding environment.

Participants will stand or walk on a treadmill through different virtual environments, such as a walk in the forest. The researchers want to evaluate the participants in "normal" daily environments. Previous studies of hearing and balance rarely replicated real-life situations, so results were questionable, said Dr. Linda Thibodeau, a professor in UT Dallas' School of Behavioral and and the chief investigator for the UT Dallas team.

The study also will provide volunteer subjects with overall assessments of their hearing and balance systems. The auditory and vestibular testing and hearing aid fitting will take place at the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders. If a hearing loss is confirmed, the audiologist will perform a hearing aid evaluation and selection.

People with hearing loss will be equipped with bilateral hearing aids and FM systems for a six-week period. The study requires four to five visits, taking a total of 10 to 12 hours, scheduled over a period of six to eight weeks.

The second phase of the study, looking at balance and mobility, will take place at the UNT center in Fort Worth. Dr. Nicoleta Bugnariu, associate professor at UNT, is lead investigator for the project.

Reflective sensors will be placed on the arms, legs and the body to measure patients' various aspects of gait and balance. A harness is provided for patient safety during the testing.

Researchers will compare the base-line test results gathered before amplification with the results noted after six weeks of amplification to determine whether balance improves when the participant is able to hear better in the noisy environment.

The investigators are seeking 10 adults, ages 50 to 80 years, who have normal hearing and another 10 who have hearing loss but have never worn a hearing aid.

"We anticipate that there will be increased cognitive resources available to devote to and gait when the or assistive devices are worn," Thibodeau said. "But until we observe these individuals in situations that are created to simulate normal day-to-day environments, we can't be certain of the effects. This study could go a long way toward helping us understand the importance of hearing and how it affects many other aspects of a person's well-being."

Explore further: Hearing loss linked to 3-fold risk of falling

Related Stories

Hearing loss linked to 3-fold risk of falling

February 27, 2012
Hearing loss has been linked with a variety of medical, social and cognitive ills, including dementia. However, a new study led by a Johns Hopkins researcher suggests that hearing loss may also be a risk factor for another ...

Mild hearing loss linked to brain atrophy in older adults

August 31, 2011
A new study by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shows that declines in hearing ability may accelerate gray mater atrophy in auditory areas of the brain and increase the listening ...

Cambridge software improves quality of sound for hearing aid users

November 8, 2012
A new software product developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge could greatly improve sound perception for users of hearing aids.

Hearing aid gap: Millions who could benefit remain untreated

February 13, 2012
Though an estimated 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older have hearing loss, only about one in seven uses a hearing aid, according to a new study led by Johns Hopkins researchers.

Study: Lowering cost doesn't increase hearing aid purchases

May 10, 2011
Lowering the cost of hearing aids isn't enough to motivate adults with mild hearing loss to purchase a device at a younger age or before their hearing worsens, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital.

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

fruth
not rated yet Feb 06, 2013
Seems like research in hearing loss is taking giant steps in the last few months! This investigation can be perfectly complementary to the one Dr. Lin is making about the relation between hearing loss and dementia (ht tp://bit.ly/TgeBpY). As a hearing impaired person, I have no words to describe my happiness with the way this scientists are stressing the social side of hearing loss. Thanks, guys!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.