Every year 20-40% of adults over 60 have a fall. Often some slight dizziness or a loss of balance will be dismissed as signs of “old age”, however these seemingly small symptoms can cause falls and hip fractures which can lead to hospitalisation and other serious adverse events.
Why is balance important?
Good balance allows you to control and maintain body position whether moving or remaining still. It allows you to walk without staggering or stumbling, climb stairs without tripping and most importantly: it can prevent falls.
How do we “balance”?
Balance is a complex task, which results from the integration of information from many different areas of the body. There are three main areas involved, each of which can break down to cause common conditions. These are:
- The brain – the cerebellum or “little brain” is an integral portion of what controls our posture and gait (how we walk). Damage to this area manifests in many ways such as poor balance, clumsiness, difficulty walking and poor co-ordination.
- The vestibular system – the inner ear responds to the position and movement of the head in relation to gravity. These signals, while helping to control balance in standing and walking, are also critical in certain eye movements allowing us to see clearly while walking or running.
- The spine, muscle spindles and your joints – Muscle spindles and joints contain sensory receptors which provide proprioceptive information (information about where our body is in space). These receptors send signals to the brain via the spinal cord with information on the position of every movement. These same pathways allow us to catch, throw and even walk.
As we age, the flow of blood to the inner ear decreases. Simultaneously, after 55 the number of nerve cells in the vestibular system is shown to decrease. Luckily the brain is plastic! This means that it can be trained, and function can even be regained through the use of regular exercise and specific tasks that target areas of deficit in the brain.
Find your balance age!
At Shirley Rd we are able to objectively assess your balance age using the Balance Concepts program. The testing only takes 3 minutes to complete and will compare your balance to data from thousands of individuals of the same age and height. To determine your falls risk, “balance age” and which of the above systems needs to be targeted to decrease the likelihood of a fall.
If you are interested in learning more about balance or you know someone who would benefit from finding out more about their “balance age” please contact the Shirley Rd team.
A tendency to fall and symptoms of dizziness should not be dismissed as unavoidable consequences of ageing but may be important signs of a disease that might be cured or controlled.