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It’s A Matter of Balance….(and we’re not talking about your checking account!)

By Christine Stone, RN, BSN

As if we need another reason to go kicking and screaming into our older years…….

Our sense of balance is affected as we age which can increase our risk for falls and fractured bones. Yikes!   Why does this happen and what can we do about it?   Read on…..

Think about it – – our vision diminishes as we age and we don’t see things as clearly as we once did.   We have more problems with night vision and depth perception – driving at night is especially challenging.   The loss of these visual cues can affect our balance and increase the risk of a trip and fall.

The inner ear has a very complex system (called “vestibular”) which helps us sense where the body is in space: Are we standing upright or lying down or bending over?   The vestibular system is connected to parts of our brain which also help regulate our balance.   When working properly it helps us correct our position if we feel ourselves falling over or losing balance.   As we age, cells in the vestibular system diminish. This in turn affects our ability to self-correct our balance quickly enough.

Changes in blood pressure (BP) – especially dips when we suddenly stand up can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, blurry vision, and even fainting.

We lose muscle mass and strength, and our reflexes and coordination slow as we age. This can cause stumbling and decreased reaction time.

Some health conditions can cause problems with balance.   They include, but not limited to, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, arthritis and multiple sclerosis.  Medications can cause blurred vision, dizziness, drowsiness, or could damage the inner ear – triggering balance issues.

What can we do to minimize problems with balance?

  • Always wear glasses or have corrective vision or cataract surgery.
  • Stand up slowly from a sitting position.
  • Sit on the edge of the bed for a minute or two before standing up from a lying down position.
  • Keep your home free of clutter to minimize the chance of trip and fall accidents.
  • Exercise to rebuild muscles strength and power.   If you start to trip/fall, muscle strength and power will help you react faster.   You don’t need to go to a gym. Talk to your health care provider for a list of exercises you can do right in the comfort of your home.