Auditory Impairment and Falls: Investigating the Link Between Hearing Loss and Falls among Elderly Individuals




Villarreal, Adrian R.


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Recent studies show that hearing acuity correlates with postural balance, a prerequisite for mobility, and impaired hearing is associated with greater risk for falls. A possible connection between impaired hearing and falls in elderly adults could be that awareness resources may be taxed as cognitive load is increased when people with hearing impairment try to interpret what they hear. This practicum report investigated if an increased cognitive load due to auditory impairments in elderly individuals with hearing loss leads to imbalance while walking. Subjects are placed in a virtual reality world and subjects with and without hearing loss, wearing or not wearing their hearing aids will be monitored as they stand, walk, and listen under various conditions. The outcome measures analyzed were gait speed, medial-lateral and vertical displacement of an estimated center of mass, and average hearing scores. The overall goal was to gain a better understanding of the link between hearing and balance to offer new insight into prevention of falls among the elderly. Although no significant comparisons were observed between hearing impaired subjects on gait speed and center of mass displacement measures, it is important to note that not enough subjects have been observed with their hearing aids to make accurate comparisons. In addition to the experimental study, this practicum report briefly discussed the managerial tasks observed in ensuring the study follows the required guidelines involving human subjects.