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Patients with hearing loss have been found to be more likely to develop dementia. Hearing loss is also associated with poor balance and higher risk of falls, especially in the elderly population. There is increasing evidence that treating hearing loss may be a modifiable risk factor for dementia. The authors sought to determine if providing acoustic signals improved balance in participants with a mean age of 67.1 years old. Sixteen participants without any prior balance symptoms were included in the study. There was a mixture of patients with normal hearing to moderate presbycusis. They were required to walk with eyes open/closed, head turning in rhythm, eyes open over barriers over a distance of 12 metres and tandem steps with eyes open over a distance of six metres. These tasks were performed under a variety of acoustic situations such as in quiet as a reference condition, continuous white noise, interrupted white noise, ’click’ noises with each step and sound deprivation by wearing both ear plugs and circumaural ear protectors. The authors found that continuous noise stimulus was most useful in reducing body sway. Having a continuous white noise from a fixed sound source was helpful in improving postural stability in both simple and more complex walking tasks, such as walking over barriers. There was no observable reduction in body sway with other acoustic situations. Acoustic stimulation did not have an effect with the more complex task of walking with head turning in rhythm. The authors also found that deprivation of acoustic stimulus with ear protectors caused increased sway and, hence, a higher risk of falling. Interestingly, this was also present when the participants performed tasks with open eyes. This study with a small sample size demonstrated that providing auditory stimulus could improve balance during walking in the elderly. Further work is needed and it would be interesting to see if balance could be improved in an environment where there are multiple acoustic stimuli.

Influence of Auditory Information on Postural Control During Different Gait Tasks in the Elderly.
D Basta, L Borsellino, K Anton, A Ernst.
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Wai Sum Cho

Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK.

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