Balance deficits can have a major impact on health and well-being, particularly in the elderly. 40% of women over 50 will incur a fracture as a result of a fall. Roughly one third of people over 65 living at home will fall at least once, and half of the people over the age of 65 who are hospitalized as the result of a fall, will die secondary to complications within the following year. Rarely is a person’s history of falling discussed during visits to their physician.
Balance depends on multiple sensory systems. These systems are vision, vestibular, and peripheral sensory input. At least 2 of the 3 systems must function accurately to maintain one’s balance. Integration of these senses must also be combined with a strong and coordinated musculo- skeletal system capable of responding to challenges from the environment.
Vision becomes the dominant orientation sense as people age. However, this increasing reliance on vision is not an effective compensation as vision degenerates with age. Loss of acuity, vertical and horizontal perception, and ability to distinguish color decrease with aging.
Vestibular sense is provided by the semicircular canals in our inner ears, which function similarly to gyroscopes. This vestibular apparatus feeds information regarding the position of our head with respect to gravity to the brain. Vestibular sense also declines with age due to arthritic changes affecting the neck and changes in the fluid and nerve cells in the canals.
Peripheral sensory input refers to the ability to “feel” the environment. The skin, joints and muscles of our feet and the lower extremities give our brains information about where we are and allows for the brain to make necessary adjustments in order to maintain a balanced body. If we have compromised sensation, perhaps from peripheral neuropathy secondary to diabetes, the potential for falling escalates.
OPTM has developed a comprehensive approach within our Center for Fall Prevention, which includes education regarding creating a safe home environment, exercises and awareness of the influence of medications on balance. We have balance exercise classes which are available to everyone. Education regarding nutrition and osteoporosis is also included in the program.
Click on the arrows to the left or the right to view our full collection of newsletters.