Experts teach seniors how to avoid tripping and falling

New research shows connection between hearing loss and falls

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 2, 2013

MADISON HEIGHTS — Falls are the most common fatal and non-fatal injury among older Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to a 2012 study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, those with even mild hearing loss are three times more likely to fall.

“To paraphrase the Johns Hopkins study: Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they’re actually very cognitively demanding,” said Diane Nens, an audiologist and health expert with hi HealthInnovations, a national hearing aid company focused on improving access and affordability of hearing aids.

“This means hearing loss affects your ‘cognitive load,’ taking away mental resources from other acts, such as maintaining balance,” Nens said. “That’s what they (the study) are leaning towards when looking for an explanation as to why people with even mild hearing loss are falling three times more often.”

To encourage seniors to have their hearing checked out and undertake other steps to maintain balance and avoid falling, hi HealthInnovations teamed up with Accredited Home Care to hold an educational event at the Senior Citizen Center in Madison Heights Sept. 20, in advance of the start of fall and National Falls Prevention Awareness Day.

Accredited Home Care is a Warren-based group that handles qualifications for patient care coordination. They sent a physical therapist to the event to conduct assessments and share tips on avoiding falls.

“It’s amazing how many seniors need physical therapy strengthening,” said Sue Hetman, administrator at Accredited Home Care.

There were also free blood-pressure screenings. At the center of the event was a seminar by hi HealthInnovations on hearing loss and loss of balance. The event discussed five proactive steps seniors can take to stay standing.

First, Nens said to exercise regularly and incorporate balance, strength training and flexibility components. She recommends looking into programs such as tai chi, which is currently offered through the city of Madison Heights.

Second, she said all seniors should review their medications with their pharmacist or physician to make sure it isn’t having any adverse effects, such as sleepiness or dizziness. As people age, the effects of medicine can change, so it helps to check.

Third, Nens said seniors should have their vision checked at least once a year. Conditions like cataracts can limit vision and increase the chance of falling. Glasses may not be as effective if a different prescription is needed.

Fourth, Nens advised seniors to “fall-proof” their home, where six out of 10 falls occur. She recommends improving the lighting, installing handrails, and moving items for greater accessibility, so stepstools aren’t needed to reach higher places and clutter isn’t obstructing pathways. And where rugs are concerned, she recommends using double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping underfoot.

Finally, seniors should have their hearing tested annually, Nens said. If there is any hearing loss detected, the right hearing aids can restore the sense of sound. As the study indicates, hearing keeps the senior better balanced and less likely to fall.

Nens said seniors should take all of this advice to heart. Her own father fell several months ago and broke his hip, and within 12 days of his surgery, he passed away due to surgery-related complications.

“The fatal injuries are many times due to complications from surgery,” Nens said.

She noted findings by the National Council on Aging, which report that every 29 minutes, an older adult dies following a fall.

“I had a passion for this before, but ever since the experience of raising my father, my passion has grown,” Nens said. “I want to get the word out there and raise awareness.”

The Madison Heights Senior Citizen Center, 29448 John R, will host another health and wellness event for seniors from 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 18, with more than 20 groups offering screenings for eyesight, hearing, blood pressure, blood sugar and more.

Accredited Home Care is located at 27733 Schoenherr in Warren and can be reached at (586) 427-6640. Their website is

For more information on hi HealthInnovations, call (855) 523-9355, or visit  

Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.