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  • Cameron Oglesby

Can hearing loss lead to balance problems?

Many people, particularly older ones, have both hearing loss and balance problems.

A 2018 Journal of Preventative Medicine report suggests there’s a connection between hearing loss and risk of falls. And a Johns Hopkins study reported that adults aged 40 to 60 with mild hearing loss were three times as likely to have fallen during the previous year.

Is there a correlation here? Or maybe just coincidence?

After all, the body’s main hearing and balance receptors – the cochlea and the vestibular system – live side by side in the inner ear.

The spiral-shaped cochlea is your body’s biological microphone; it receives sound vibrations through the filament-like cells that cover it and converts them into electrical impulses to your brain.

Surrounding it is the vestibular system, your body’s biological gyroscope. It comprises three semicircular, bony canals filled with fluid and set at right angles to each other. In concert with the otolithic organs – small sacs filled with granules – they sense movement. One senses up and down, another side to side, and the third senses tilt; together they send that information to the brain.

So it’s logical to assume that what affects one affects the other.

Logical, perhaps, but not necessarily accurate.

Almost all hearing and balance problems occur independently.

In 2001, for example, when the best-known case of cochlear failure caused Rush Limbaugh to lose 100% of his hearing, it had no effect on his balance. And many balance problems have causes that have nothing to do with the ears.

Of the very few conditions that cause both, the most prevalent is Meniere’s disease, in which a fluid called endolymph floods the inner ear, blocking and distorting hearing and balance signals to the brain, causing both hearing loss and vertigo.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV for short) is one of many conditions that affect the inner ear and balance, but not hearing. It occurs when one of the granules inside an otolithic organ breaks loose and dams up fluid inside the vestibular canals. Others include vestibular neuritis (viral inflammation of the vestibular nerve), labyrinthitis (inner ear infection or inflammation), and perilymph fistula (inner ear fluid leakage into the middle ear).

Most balance problems have nothing to do with the ears at all.

Like many prescription drugs that older adults take. Dizziness is a known side effect of more than 2,000 meds.

Or age-related vision problems like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal stroke – each of which impairs the brain’s ability to navigate.

Or leg-related arthritis, osteoporosis, and joint replacements that can change the way a person walks.

Even the soles of your feet – the body parts farthest from the inner ear – can interfere with balance if neuropathy or circulatory problems make it harder for your body to sense where to stand and how to walk.

All of which is further proof that even with similar health issues, no two people are exactly alike – not physically, not mentally, not emotionally, not psychosocially. That’s why our thorough three-part needs assessment goes way beyond superficialities to become the basis of a holistic, coordinated senior care management plan. Each plan is individually designed to meet the needs, preferences, and values of each of the individuals we serve.

To learn more about what a difference that makes, please contact us. What you hear could be music to your ears.

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