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Hearing loss and the role of audiology in preventing hospital falls

Preventing falls by hospital or nursing home patients is not always easy. Elderly patients may have neuropathy, movement disorders or other balance issues.

Younger folks may have issues as well. No matter how they happen, however, falls can be very serious, especially for the elderly.

In this post, we'd like to inform you about a contributing factor in many falls that should be better known: the role of hearing loss and problems with the vestibular system. Many medical professionals should be more aware of this role than they currently are

Multiple Factors in Fall Prevention

Research shows that effective fall prevention requires looking at multiple factors. Identifying hospital patients who are at significant risk of falling involves more than assessing functional balance. It must involve looking at a patient's entire medical history.

One aspect of this history is of course taking account of diseases or conditions that affect movement and balance. This means being aware of arthritis, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis and other disorders.

Inner Ear Issues and Fall Risk

The factors that hospital staff should be on the lookout for when assessing a patient's risk of falling include hearing loss and certain conditions of the inner ear.

Why is this? For one thing, severe hearing loss leaves someone without as many sensory clues for maintaining balance. This can increase the risk of falls, especially when combined with other factors.

But beyond or apart from hearing loss, it is also important to recognize the role of the vestibular system more generally. The vestibular system involves the inner ear and brain. It plays a critical role in processing sound and maintaining balance.

This means that when something is amiss with the vestibular system, the risk of falls can increase substantially. In other words, ear problems that contribute to falls involve more than hearing loss. This is seen most starkly in Meniere's disease, but it is also true of other inner-ear issues as well.

When assessing fall risks, hospitals and nursing homes can therefore use insights from the field of audiology, which addresses not only hearing loss but issues of the inner ear.

Why This Matters

Hospital falls can lead to serious complications. For many elderly patients, they are fatal.

This is why it is so important for care facilities to do a good job of assessing a patient's risk of falling. Failure to do so properly can be medical negligence. Clearly one aspect of assessing fall risk should be taking proper account of hearing loss and inner-ear issues more generally.

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