Objective: The number of steps required to regain balance is an easily obtainable clinical outcome measure. This study assessed whether number of steps during loss of balance could identify older adults with hearing loss who have balance deficits. We aimed to answer two questions: 1) Does hearing loss negatively affect the ability to regain balance, as reflected by an increased number of steps needed to respond to a perturbation while simultaneously attending to speech-in-noise; and 2) Do hearing aids improve balance control, reflected by a decrease in number of steps needed to regain balance?
Methods: 20 young adults and 20 older adults with normal hearing, and 19 older adults with hearing loss performed an auditory-balance dual-task. Participants were asked to listen and repeat back sentences from a standardized audiology test, while simultaneously responding to backward surface translations. Outcome measures were performed on the auditory test and number of steps needed to regain balance. Repeated measures ANCOVA models were run in using group, time, hearing levels, and perturbation levels as predictors.
Results: Auditory scores confirmed difficulty hearing speech-in-noise in older adults with hearing loss and no hearing aids, and in young and older adults with normal hearing and simulated hearing loss. Results showed that group, auditory and balance conditions are significantly related to both outcomes measures and time is not significant for steps. Older adults with hearing loss had a significant increase in number of steps needed to regain balance compared to young adults and older adults with normal hearing.
Conclusion: Number of steps may be an appropriate clinical assessment tool for identifying fall risk in older adults with hearing loss. Further research needs to be performed to identify proper assessments and treatment interventions for older adults with hearing loss who have balance deficits.