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Impact of hearing on our balance
The sound perception affects our balance. Hearing problems can therefore be a risk factor for falls. This is particularly noteworthy, as it is precisely in old age that many people develop hearing loss, which increases their risk of serious falls.
The recent study by New York University found that what we hear or don't hear affects our balance directly. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery".
Link between hearing loss and falls
The new study provides a better understanding of why hearing loss, particularly in older people, can result in severe falls. Earlier studies have shown that hearing loss is an independent risk factor for falls. Why this is so far has not been exactly understood, but it has been assumed that there is a connection with the inner ear.
Noise affects the balance
This latest study found that sounds we heard affect our balance by giving us important environmental information. We use sound information to keep ourselves in balance, especially in cases where other senses are impaired, the researchers explain.
Balance is based on many different sensations
The balance is complicated and requires the coordination of many different sensations. When people fall more often, examinations usually focus on visual disturbances and it is also checked whether, for example, there is neuropathy in the feet or bone problems. However, such studies completely ignore problems related to hearing.
Where did the evaluated data come from?
For the new investigation, different research papers were analyzed, which looked at the relationship between sound and balance while standing. Many of the studies focused on areas such as sound engineering, computer science, physics and psychology.
Many factors have an impact on our hearing
The studies included mainly healthy adults, but also people with congenital blindness, vestibular damage (damage to the inner ear that causes eye and balance problems including dizziness) and various degrees of hearing loss. All studies looked at how noise affects people's ability to keep their balance when they stand still. The researchers also looked at how wearing noise canceling headphones affects balance
Silence worsens balance?
The results of the study show that people had more difficulty balancing on an uneven surface or standing still when it was quiet. On the other hand, if they could hear noises, they had a better balance. The type of noise also seemed to be important for balance. A continuous background noise (usually static) was particularly helpful for the participants in maintaining their balance.
Certain sounds reduce the balance
Some types of noise actually reduced balance. For example, beeping sounds played in from headphones from left to right caused difficulties in standing upright. This could be because sound can act as a kind of acoustic anchor. More specifically, people use noise to subconsciously create a mental picture of the environment.
Sound can improve our posture
Sound became more important for balance if the participants had to master difficult tasks related to balance or if there were sensory problems before. When people with sight or hearing loss or balance problems heard stationary sounds, their posture improved significantly. This suggests that people rely more on hearing when other senses are impaired, the researchers explain.
Sounds have a stabilizing effect on the balance
Current research suggests that sounds can have a stabilizing effect on balance. The inability to hear sounds has been shown to contribute to poorer balance. Ultimately, an inability to perceive noise means an increased risk for sufferers that they develop balance problems and are injured by falls.
More research is needed
Older people in particular have a number of factors that expose them to an increased risk of falling. Hearing loss is an important and as yet insufficiently understood factor in terms of our balance and risk of falling, emphasizes the research team. Age-related hearing loss is widespread and should be considered and investigated as a cause, especially in people with a high risk of falling. Future research needs to show whether treating this hearing loss can improve balance and prevent falls. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Anat V. Lubetzky, PT. PhD., Marta Gospodarek, MS., Liraz Arie, MScPT., Jennifer Kelly, DPT. NCS., Agnieszka Roginska, PhD. et al .: Auditory Input and Postural Control in Adults, in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (Published 3/12/2020), JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery