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Listen Up to Stay Upright!

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Good hearing and balance are things we tend to take for granted when we are young, and we rarely spare a thought as to the relationship that exists between the two, but there is increasing evidence as to the link between decreasing hearing and an increased risk of falls.  Deterioration in hearing is often stigmatised and accepted as a normal part of the ageing process, and while hearing can deteriorate as we age, action can be taken to mitigate the impacts of hearing loss and hence also reduce the risk of falls and resultant injuries.

At Home Care Assistance we are passionate about educating our clients and their families about conditions affecting seniors, including hearing loss, which is the most common sensory deficit amongst older people1. Hearing loss affects 37% of adults aged 61−70 years, and more than 80% of those older than 85 years of age2. Despite its common occurrence, Australians tend to wait up to 10 years from when they first detect a hearing loss to when they act and seek help3.  

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury in older Australians and almost one in three older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months; one in five of these required hospitalisation4. Even when falls don’t cause an injury, they often trigger a loss of confidence in an older person and lead to an ongoing fear of falling. Over time, this can lead to the person limiting their movements and reducing their activity, which further increases the risk of falling.

The connection between hearing and risk of falls is thought to be multi-faceted. The organ of hearing itself, known as the cochlear is physically linked to the organ that controls balance known as the vestibular system. It makes sense then that a failing in one part of this shared system could impact the other.  

It is also possible that a reduction in awareness of our surroundings brought about by hearing loss, could also impact our spatial awareness, and make us seem a bit clumsier and therefore increase the risk of a fall. Most people believe though that the connection lies in the effort needed to put into hearing when hearing loss is evident. The brain needs to work much harder to communicate and cope with our surroundings if hearing loss is present and untreated – known as cognitive load. An increase in our cognitive load takes away the energy and ability to focus on other essential processing needs, especially our balance and stability. 

Hearing loss is often an invisible condition however, with most people experiencing its onset very gradually and therefore not thinking to mention it to others until they themselves start to notice it. A lack of steadiness and increasing balance issues on the other hand are much more visible and can be the trigger for families googling ‘aged care near me’ as concerns around the physical safety of their ageing loved ones increases.

If in-home care services are already in place, hearing loss can be detected much earlier as part of standard assessment processes, and at Home Care Assistance, our trained Care Workers can recognise the signs of hearing loss much earlier than individuals themselves flagging it. Acting sooner on hearing loss can be a great way to ward off the risk of falls related to hearing loss.

Reasons why someone might have a fall in the home while ageing in place can also be multifaceted, so assessment of falls risk is also a key part of our assessment process, both initially and ongoing, when Home Care Assistance is your in-home care agency.  We can refer and arrange you to an Occupational Therapist to assess both personal physical risks due to changes to the body, but also common household risks such as poor lighting, trip hazards, unsafe footwear, or uneven surfaces, that when combined with hearing loss, can really increase the likelihood of a fall.  

At Home Care Assistance, we pride ourselves on a great network of allied health professionals, including audiologists, who can address any hearing loss concerns and get you on the right path to addressing your hearing and reducing your risk of falls.  Our assessment team and expert Care Workers know what to look out for to ensure prompt attention and referral to the right service, many of whom can also provide in-home health care to make it even easier to access. 

If you or your loved one might be starting to feel the affects of hearing loss, or have had a fall, give us a call at Home Care Assistance and let our networks help you listen up to stay upright!

References:

1 Ciorba A, Bianchini C, Pelucchi S, Pastore A. The impact of hearing loss on the quality of life of elderly patients. Clin Interv Aging 2012;7:159–63.

2 Walling AD, Dickson GM. Hearing loss in older adults. Am Fam Physician 2012;85(12):1150–56

3 https://www.deafnessforum.org.au/factsheet-hearing-loss-is-a-widespread-disability-amongst-older-people/

4 https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/falls

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    As a leading age care provider, Home Care Assistance offers tailored in-home care services for older Australians, enabling them to live happier and healthier lives in the comfort of their own homes

    We offer private and government subsidised Care Packages and have office locations that are a registered NDIS provider. Our Care Workers undergo extensive training in order to deliver unmatched in-home aged care services where people can continue ageing in place. We are proud ambassadors of the My Aged Care government funded aged care program, enabling Australians to successfully navigate the process and gain approval for in-home care support packages. Home Care Assistance offers hourly care, specialised care, Alzheimer’s and Dementia care, hospital to home care, and 24 hour in home care.

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