aging well
As hearing fades, risk of falling may rise

THE QUESTION Foot problems, muscle weakness and slower reflexes can affect balance and cause a fall. So can some medications, vision problems, blood pressure issues and more. Should hearing loss be added to the list?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 2,017 people, 40 to 69 years old, who were considered representative of the U.S. population. Standardized testing showed that about 14 percent of them had at least mild hearing loss, and about 5 percent reported having fallen in the past year. Participants also were tested on how well they kept their balance. People with a 25-decibel hearing loss, considered mild, were three times as likely to have fallen as were those with no hearing loss, even after taking into account balance issues. As hearing loss increased, so did the likelihood of taking a tumble.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People of middle age and older. Many people experience gradual loss of hearing as they age, a change often attributed to heredity or long-term exposure to loud noises. Incidents of falling also increase with age but are almost always attributed to something other than merely getting older.

CAVEATS Data on falling came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires. The study did not test whether treating hearing problems would affect falling.

FIND THIS STUDY Feb. 27 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (

LEARN MORE ABOUT falls at Learn about hearing loss at

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-
reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's
effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.