Poor hearing can contribute to falls

Tips on preventing falls

Exercise. Programs such as tai chi increase strength and improve balance.

Be mindful of medications. Some medicines or combinations of medicines can bring about dizziness or drowsiness. Have your doctor or pharmacist review all medications to reduce the chance of risky side effects.

Have your vision checked. Poor vision can make it harder to get around safely.

Eliminate hazards at home. About half of all falls happen at home. Identify potential fall hazards that need to be removed or changed, such as tripping hazards, clutter and poor lighting.

Have hearing checked annually or every other year. Adults with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to fall.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Free hearing seminars for seniors

You & Your Ears. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 9. East Cobb Senior Center. Basics of hearing and how to spot signs of hearing loss. Latest advances in hearing aid technology. Free hearing screening available. Registration required. 770-509-4900.

Hearing and Balance Disorders. 10-11 a.m. Oct. 23. Cobb Wellness Center. Presented by WellStar Health System. Registration required. 770-528-5355.

If you’re over 60 and find that you’re constantly turning up the volume or have resorted to lip-reading during face-to-face conversations, know that you’re not alone.

One-third of adults 60 and older — and half of those over 75 — have some hearing loss, but most won’t do anything about it.

Though technology has shrunk the size of hearing aids to where some don’t show at all, it hasn’t made any difference in the percentage of users. Statistics remain the same: Only one in five adults who need a hearing aid will get it, according to research.

However, there are plenty of reasons to reconsider.

Hearing loss — which has been linked to a number of medical and social ills, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — is now said to contribute to falls.

Adults with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to fall, and the percentage goes up as hearing capacity goes down, according to a study out of Johns Hopkins University.

Hearing loss could contribute to an overall unawareness of environment, which could lead to tripping and falling, according to researchers for this study.

But it could also be natural aging.

Hearing and balance both have to do with the inner ear, so it’s not so uncommon for the elderly to have aging issues with both at the same time, said Dr. Bret Greenblatt, director of Audiology and Balance Center at ENT Associates of North Georgia and audiology director with WellStar Health System.

Greenblatt said hearing loss is a slow process that it may only be obvious to others at first.

“Family members might notice that you’re withdrawn, or at family events you’re removing yourself from conversations,” he said.

Ideally, hearing should be checked annually or every two years because poor hearing can affect quality of life.

With regards to balance, other aging factors also can play a role, such as diminishing eyesight and the inability to walk without assistance.

For seniors diagnosed with disequilibrium, unsteadiness and imbalance are often the result. Patients can improve their balance through home exercises and working with a physical therapist on gait training.

Hearing aids are much smaller, specialized and high-tech, as compared with those worn a generation ago, and that’s attractive to the coming wave of retiring baby boomers.

“Baby boomers are interested in technology, while the generation before them cares more about the cost of the hearing aids,” Greenblatt said.

Some of the latest advances include digital devices, Bluetooth, iPhone hearing aids and remote microphones. As an example of wireless advances, television audio can now be linked directly to the hearing aid, so you can finally turn the volume down for everyone else’s enjoyment.

However, these custom-made devices are not cheap. According to AARP, prices range from $1,200 to $3,700 for one high-tech hearing aid, and 80 percent of wearers will need two. Battery costs range from $50 to $100 per year.

Hearing aids and most hearing tests are not covered by Medicare, and generally aren’t covered by health insurance, either.

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