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Hearing for balance: have your say

Katrina Williams, FACP
7 February 2017  

The Australian Government recently launched its Inquiry into the Hearing Health and Wellbeing of Australia, and is calling for individuals and organisations to send in their opinions and proposals.

You may be thinking, ‘What does physiotherapy have to do with hearing health and wellbeing?’ Well, if one thinks about hearing as a key sensory input that allows us to engage in society, you can understand how the loss of hearing can result in deficits of participation and function due to restrictions on communication but also through a loss of environmental sensory scanning. It is here that physiotherapists play a key role in driving balance integration for function.

Evidence strongly points to a loss of hearing as an adult, resulting in decreased balance and increased falls as a person loses the capacity to gain auditory 4-D information. A study by Criter et al (2016) identified adults with hearing loss were twice as likely to experience falls to aged-matched counterparts, while Parietti-Winkleret al (2015) found individuals who regained hearing via cochlear implants improved in their overall balance scores to that of aged-matched counterparts. Finally, Fellinger et al (2015) demonstrated children with hearing loss had poor motor performance compared to their age-matched counterparts. The inquiry is not only interested in hearing but also balance disorders associated with hearing loss.

Across the lifespan, hearing loss and balance disorders may arise from vestibular and central neurological conditions, while hearing loss as we age is likely to be one of the most commonly reported impairments in your patients, we know that the aging adult will loss functionality of their vestibular system resulting in reduced balance.

Key community organisations, such as the Whirled Foundation, Deafness Forum of Australia and Hear and Say, are working to support people with hearing and balance loss. I call on APA members to step up and provide information to the inquiry to drive the health agenda for this patient population. Further details about the enquiry can be found on the Parliament of Australia website.


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