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Keeping balance, listening at same time hard for elederly

Armen Hareyan's picture
Elderly keeping balance and listening

Everyday tasks that require listening and balancing simultaneously, like walking while paying close attention to an audio book or a conversation, may become more difficult for people as they age past their late 70s, according to new Pitt research.

Joseph Furman, M.D., Ph.D., director of UPMC’s Center for Balance Disorders, a professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and colleagues conducted randomized trials with three different age groups of healthy adults – including 24- to 27-year-olds, 65- to 71-year-olds and 76- to 82-year-olds – and compared how well they were able to accomplish listening tasks while their visual and balance systems were kept busy. Seated in swivel chairs that were either upright or at a 30-degree tilt, the volunteers performed listening exercises while motionless or spinning in darkness or in light.

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The researchers found that, in general, all age groups reacted more slowly to the listening tasks when spinning than when motionless. However, this was especially true for people in the oldest age group. They also found that stimulation of the ear’s gravity-sensing organs – through the 30-degree tilt of the chair – was especially powerful in slowing down a person’s auditory reaction time. Again, this effect was most pronounced for people in the oldest age group.

The National Institute on Aging also supported this research.

Presentation No. 961

NIDCD supports and conducts research and research training on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech and language and provides health information, based upon scientific discovery, to the public. For more information about NIDCD programs, please visit www.nidcd.nih.gov.