To understand our movement and position, we use the vestibular system which is part of our inner ear. This particular system uses a complex sensing mechanism to give us information about motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation.
In fact, the vestibular system in our ears works together with our eyes, skin, muscles, and joints to gather information to share with our brain. The brain then sorts information to create feedback for the person in motion regarding where to focus the eyes and how to adjust posture. Our hearing can provide significant additional input in this process: research classifies sound as the auditory reference point to maintaining balance.2 Consider all the aspects you need to take into account when walking on an icy sidewalk or climbing a staircase, for instance. You look around you for obstacles, you feel the edge of the steps or the condition of the ground with your feet, you listen for other people’s steps when turning around the corner – all your available senses help you to stay balanced.
Loss of balance and its impact
The systems responsible for helping us sustain our balance tend to lose some of their function as we age— increasing the likelihood of falling, and the chances of experiencing dizziness. If any of these systems send incorrect or conflicting messages to the brain, it can cause a sensation of spinning and a feeling of unsteadiness, which could lead to falling. If a person falls, the health consequences can be considerable:
The World Health Organization estimates that 684,000 fatal falls happen annually, which renders falling the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after road traffic injuries. More than 37 million falls per year cause injuries that require medical attention.3 The incidence of falls rises with age4 and for elderly people with hearing loss, risk of falling increases two to three times.5
At Sonova, we want everyone to be able to enjoy the delight of hearing and live a life without limitations. With this vision in mind, it is important to be aware of how hearing instruments can help and what you can do to keep your equilibrium in check.Stay balanced: four recommendations
1. Stay physically active: From walks in the park, climbing stairs to guided exercises from a physical therapist or taking up sports you enjoy – it’s important to keep your body moving.6 Exercise programs that target two or more components of balance, gait, muscle strength or flexibility have demonstrated a reduction in the rate of falls and the number of people falling, while showing long-term benefits.7
2. Adapt your living environment: Remove cords in the way which could cause tripping, consider installing automatic lighting, removing carpets, and wearing shoes with solid traction.5
3. Engage your mind: Maintain social and cognitive activity in addition to physical activity throughout your life.
4. Get your vision and hearing tested: Make use of all your senses to keep your balance. In case of hearing loss, getting fitted with hearing aids or using other hearing solutions can positively impact the emotional, physical, and social aspects of your well-being so that each activity can be enjoyed to the fullest.8
How balanced are you?Sonova’s Audiological Care business includes specialized “World of Hearing” stores, several of which offer services during balance focus days to discuss the relationship between hearing and balance, assess individual fall risks and provide personal recommendations of how to reduce the risk of falling.