Preventing falls; hearing, balance

FEATURE—The key to preventing falls lies within the inner ear and the balance system. One of the greatest goals for hearing and balance specialists is to help prevent patients from falling down.

If you are at risk of falling, there are many things to help prevent such falls. First, slow down and be aware of your surroundings. Use night lights or increase the wattage of lights. Be aware of your surroundings, eliminate clutter and be mindful of pets at your feet. Remove throw rugs, limit alcohol intake, use restroom frequently to avoid rushing, install grab bars and avoid flip-flops or loose fitting slippers.

The following are some statistics from an article by Richard E. Gans, Ph.D., founder of the American Institute of Balance, that shows why preventing falls is so vital:

  • Dizziness is the No. 1 complaint of persons over 70
  •  About 85 percent of vertigo and balance dysfunctions may be inner ear related
  • Individuals with BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) have a great incidence of depression, falls, and reduced activity of daily living
  • Falls are the leading cause of accidental deaths in persons over 65
  • Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury and bone fractures
  • Falls are the sixth leading cause of death in seniors
  • About 20 percent of those who sustain a hip fracture from a fall will die within a year
  • Of those who sustain a hip fracture, 49 percent will die within six months
  • Of those who do fall, 20 percent will require placement within a long-term care facility
  • Over 1000 drugs list vertigo as a side-effect
  • It is estimated that by age 80, there could be a loss of 50 percent of vestibular neurons

In a study done by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D  at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that people with a 25-decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling.  Every additional 10-decibel of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold.

Risk factors that may increase falls include:

  • Those with vision problems such a glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetes retinopathy
  • Circulatory problems can influence our balance
  • Those who have a history of previous falls
  • Prior fractures of legs or hips
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity and/or sedentary lifestyle
  • Reported fear of falling
  • Certain drugs can increase imbalance or vertigo
  • People who feel dizzy or have imbalance when they turn their head or move quickly

You can also have your balance evaluated by an audiologist (hearing and balance specialist). Some tests will be performed which help the audiologist determine why you are dizzy, and vestibular rehabilitation may be prescribed to help retrain the brain how to improve balance and avoid falls. Proper evaluation of balance problems and proper vestibular rehabilitation are extremely helpful for many patients, and we are excited to be able to help many regain their function and prevent injuries that could result from a fall.

Kimball B. Forbes
Kimball B. Forbes

Written by  Kimball B. Forbes, M.C.D., FAAA, for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Kimball B. Forbes has been practicing as a licensed clinical audiologist in Southern Utah for over 30 years.  He has established 10 hearing and balance clinics throughout Southern Utah.

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