Older Women with Poor Hearing May Run Higher Risk of Walking Problems
As we get older, we tend to have more trouble carrying out daily activities, such as walking. Some research suggests that older adults with poor hearing may have worse balance, run higher risks of falling, and have more trouble walking and carrying out other daily activities than seniors with better hearing.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Taking a closer look at a possible link between poor hearing and difficulty walking in later life, researchers recently studied 434 older women over the course of three years. When the researchers began their study, all of the women were between 63 and 76 years old. They were all high-functioning and lived in the community, rather than in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
At the start of the study, the researchers tested each woman's hearing. They also evaluated each woman's walking ability. The researchers measured each woman's fastest walking speed and how far she could walk in six minutes. They also asked each woman whether she had any problems or difficulties walking two kilometers (about 1 1/4 mile). Three years later, at the end of the study, the researchers again asked each woman whether she had any difficulty walking two kilometers.
Women who had poor hearing at the beginning of the study walked more slowly than those with normal hearing, the researchers found. In addition, those with difficulty hearing weren't able to walk as long a distance in 6 minutes as those with normal hearing. Women with hearing problems at the beginning of the study also had more serious problems walking two kilometers than those who had normal hearing. And they were twice as likely to develop difficulties walking over the three-year course of the study than the women who had normal hearing.
There are several possible reasons that poor hearing might be associated with difficulty walking. One possibility is that people who can't hear well miss auditory (or sound) cues that help them know how they're oriented in space. Without these cues, walking can be more difficult. Impaired hearing is linked to impaired balance and greater risk of falls, both of which may underlie the development of difficulty walking. These findings highlight the importance of preventing hearing loss and addressing hearing loss if it occurs. "[This] is important not only for the ability to communicate but it may also have more wide-ranging influences on functional ability and well-being among older people," the researchers write in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Additional studies of men, people of different ages, and seniors with severe hearing problems and difficulties walking are needed, they add.
What Should I Do?
Tell your healthcare provider if you're having trouble hearing or changes in your ability to walk.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Hearing Acuity as a Predictor of Walking Difficulties in Older Women." It is in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 57, Issue 12). The report is authored by Anne Viljanen, MSc, Jaakko Kaprio, PhD, MD, Ilmari Pyykkö, MD, Martti Sorri, MD, Markku Koskenvuo, PhD, MD, and Taina Rantanen, PhD.