How the Best Hearing Aids Can Improve Your Balance
June 15, 2017 by Dr. Kelli Smith, Au. D.
In 2008, 8 million American adults reported having chronic balance issues. With more people living longer, that number continues to increase.
You may already know that our inner ear helps us stay balanced. But do you what role the best hearing aids can play in helping us stay steady on our feet?
If you think it's time for a hearing test, read on to learn why you should get it soon.
How We Maintain Balance
Falling is a serious health risk. Every year, 25% of Americans over 65 fall. They can sustain fatal or non-fatal injuries.
The three main systems that keep us balanced are vision, vestibular, and proprioception. As we age, these systems become impaired. This contributes to a decline in balance.
Vection is the illusion of self-motion. It happens when most of what you're seeing is moving so you feel like you're moving, too.
Think: watching an IMAX movie on a wide screen.
So, your eyes tell your brain that you're moving. But other sensors in your body say you aren't moving. Many times, the brain "believes" the eyes more than other senses.
In the case of vection, the brain sends signals so our muscles, organs, nervous system, etc. can respond as if the body is moving. The result can include imbalance.
Within your inner ear are several structures. One monitors the rotation of your head. Another monitors side-to-side motion. Yet another monitors up and down movement. Those last two also keep track of gravity to help you know which way is up.
Together, these structures comprise the vestibular system. That system sends continually sends signals to the brain. At the same time, the brain sends signals to the rest of the body to keep us upright.
If the vestibular system suffers infection or injury, it might tell your brain that your head is moving when it really isn't. The brain then sends incorrect signals to the body. The result is we become wobbly, even when sitting.
We also rely on proprioception for balance. That's the collection of receptors throughout our body that are sensitive to pressure and stretching. There are proprioception receptors all over the body. They are even on the soles of the feet and the neck and ankles.
The information gathered by these receptors is sent to the brain. It's then incorporated into the brain's instructions to keep us upright.
How Hearing Affects Balance
Even a split-second delay in determining the direction of sound can be significant to balance.
Balance requires that auditory information is processed in the brain at the same time as input from the vestibular system.
Hearing loss can reduce the rate at which we can determine where sound is coming from. The direction of a sound helps the brain "know" what signals to send to keep us upright.
More research is needed to fully understand the connection between hearing loss and the risk of falling. But this information helps show how the best hearing aids can improve balance.
The most common kind of hearing loss comes from damage to small sensory cells, called hair cells, in the inner ear. The damage can come from age, injury, or disease.
A hearing aid amplifies sound. Larger vibrations help undamaged hair cells compensate for the reduced number of hair cells. Hearing loss increases as the number of hair cells is reduced.
Benefits of Hearing Aids
Along with improving balance, hearing aids provide people, especially seniors, with many benefits.
Improved Cognitive Ability
When someone can hear properly, their ability to solve problems improves. They also show an increased ability to grasp new concepts and put those concepts into action.
Improvements in cognitive ability are especially beneficial for children and seniors.
Improved Social Interaction and Sense of Well-Being
Being able to hear allows people to take part in conversations. This, in turn, gives them greater social connection, stimulation, and motivation.
Many older adults also report having an improved sense of personal security when they can hear clearly.
Improved Emotional Stability
Family members report that seniors become angry and frustrated less often when they use a hearing aid.
Seniors who wear a hearing aid report feeling more autonomous and less vulnerable.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are two types of hearing aids: analog and digital. The difference between the two is the process for amplifying sound waves.
The difference between the two is the process for amplifying sound waves.
Both types are suitable for any kind of hearing loss from mild to profound. Generally, digital devices are more expensive to make and maintain. Yet, they can provide greater flexibility when it comes to fine-tuning the specifications unique to your hearing loss.
Ask your hearing professional to outline the pros and cons of each type in relation to your preferences and requirements.
Styles of Hearing Aids
People want to know which are the best hearing aids. The answer: The one you will wear.
There are a few styles of hearing aids. Some are visible but discreet. Others are designed to fit entirely inside the ear.
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are what most people envision when they think of a hearing aid. A traditional BTE device has a hard plastic case that sits behind the ear. The case is connected to a plastic component that fits inside the outer ear.
Sound is received through the case behind the ear, making it suitable for all ages and any level of hearing loss.
BTE devices can be the best hearing aids for individuals with budget constraints. Because the components of a BTE device aren't concealed within the ear, they can also be the best hearing aids for growing children.
Another kind of BTE hearing aid uses a small tube that fits into the ear canal instead of the plastic component in the inner ear. This is called an open-fit BTE.
This is called an open-fit BTE. Sound is still received from behind the ear but the smaller component can provide benefits compared to the traditional BTE.
Some people report the sound of their own voice is more clear with an open-fit BTE. There can also be less required maintenance for people prone to earwax build up.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear. Additional features can be installed to further improve the quality of sound in everyday situations. A common extra feature is a telecoil. With a telecoil,
Additional features can be installed to further improve the quality of sound in everyday situations. A common extra feature is a telecoil. With a telecoil, sound is received through circuitry instead of a microphone.
The telecoil makes hearing on the telephone easier.
It also allows wearers to take advantage of induction loop systems. These are audio systems that reduce background noise. They are often used in auditoriums and places that make public address announcements.
ITE devices are suitable for individuals with mild to severe hearing loss.
In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-Canal (CIC)
As the names suggest, these styles of hearing aids fit entirely in the ear. ITC hearing aids have a small part visible at close range. CIC devices cannot be seen at all.
Because ITC and CIC hearing aid need to be smaller and more customized than their external cousins, they can cost more. Maintenance is also often more frequent and expensive.
The Best Hearing Aids at Hampton Roads ENT - Allergy
It can't be emphasized enough that the best hearing aid is the one you will wear. Technological and aesthetic improvements make even the most basic device able to improve the quality of your hearing.
At Hampton Roads ENT - Allergy, we are dedicated to helping people of all ages have healthy ears and hearing.
Hampton Roads ENT - Allergy has a roster of professional providers and specialists can help you pinpoint hearing and balance problem.
An ENT Allergy specialist can help you determine if balloon sinuplasty is right for you.
Click Here to set an appointment with one of our providers.
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About The Author
Dr. Kelli Smith, Au. D.
Dr. Kelli Smith, Au. D. is an audiologist with Hampton Roads ENT - Allergy in Hampton, VA.
Dr. Smith resides in Smithfield with her husband and two children, Addison and Eason. While most of her personal time is spent hanging out with her family, she also enjoys paddleboarding, cooking and generally anything active that gets her outdoors!
Visit my website at : http://www.hamptonroadsaudiology.com/