Hearing and vision impairment and the 5-year incidence of falls in older adults

Age Ageing. 2016 May;45(3):409-14. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afw022. Epub 2016 Mar 5.


Background: concurrent vision and hearing loss are common in older adults; however, epidemiological data on their relationship with the incidence of falls are lacking.

Objective: we assessed the association between dual sensory impairment (DSI) and incidence of falls. We examined the influence of self-perceived hearing handicap and hearing aid use and risk of falls.

Design: a population-based, cohort study of participants followed over 5 years.

Setting: Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia.

Subjects: one thousand four hundred and seventy-eight participants aged 55 and older at baseline were included in longitudinal analyses.

Methods: visual impairment was defined as presenting or best-corrected visual acuity less than 20/40 (better eye), and hearing impairment as average pure-tone air conduction threshold >25 dB HL (500-4,000 Hz, better ear). The shortened version of the hearing handicap inventory for the elderly was administered. Incident falls were assessed over the 12 months before each visit. Cognitive impairment was determined using the Mini-Mental State Examination.

Results: five-year incidence of falls was 10.4%. Participants with severe self-perceived hearing handicap versus no hearing handicap had increased risk of incident falls, multivariable-adjusted OR 1.93 (95% confidence intervals, CI, 1.02-3.64). Hearing aid users versus non-users had 75% increased likelihood of incident falls. Participants with co-existing best-corrected visual impairment and mild hearing loss (>25 to ≤40 dB HL) had higher odds of incident falls, OR 2.19 (95% CI 1.03-4.67). After excluding persons with cognitive impairment, this association did not persist.

Conclusion: these epidemiological data show that DSI in older adults could significantly increase their risk of falling.

Keywords: Blue Mountains Eye Study; dual sensory impairment; falls; hearing loss; older people; vision loss.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia
  • Cohort Studies
  • Comorbidity
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis
  • Hearing Loss / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Vision Disorders / diagnosis
  • Vision Disorders / epidemiology*