What’s the Big Deal About Balance, and How Can it Affect You as You Age?

At least 1 out of every 4 Americans aged 65 and older experience a fall each year. That’s more than 29 million falls with 7 million injuries in just a year’s time!

It’s easy to think that you are safe from falling—until the day where you take your own tumble. Fortunately, it’s easy to get your balance assessed and do some simple exercises to keep yourself upright as long as possible. Balance problems can stem from a number of factors.

Vision problems can affect balance

As we age, our eyesight tends to get worse. This can affect balance in major ways. If you can’t see, you won’t be able to accurately assess your environment for hazards such as uneven flooring and slippery surfaces.

Eye problems not necessarily associated with aging can impair balance, too. If you are seeing double or if some parts of your vision are clearer than others, you may end up dizzy or confused, which can lead to balance problems.

The inner ear’s link to balance

You may not think of your ears when you’re thinking about balance, but ears are key to keeping you on your feet! Your vestibular system includes the parts of your inner ear and your brain that help you maintain balance. Aging can cause inner ear damage, as can injury and disease. If you find yourself suddenly dizzy or feel that your balance is even a little bit off, it’s time to look into those inner ears.

Sensory cues aid balance

The somatosensory system takes in sensory information from your surroundings and helps your body make sense of it. For example, the pressure that your feet feel when you’re walking helps you determine the dependability of the floor or ground. Your brain tells your body to make minor adjustments based on that assessment and your experience to know how solid the floor is. Sensory information also helps you stay aware of any movement around you so that you get out of the way, duck or adjust your action in any number of other ways. If your somatosensory system isn’t working well, falls are inevitable.

Check out these easy exercises that you can do to target your somatosensory system and keep it functioning well. Even if you aren’t having problems now, these exercises could help prevent them in the future.

Physical damage

If you are struggling with an injury, muscle inflexibility or muscle atrophy, your balance also may be affected. Your body will try to compensate for an injury by shifting your weight, which can throw you off and cause a fall. Or your body could try to rely on muscles that are not as strong or as capable as they used to be. All of these problems can contribute to balance difficulties.

Take care of yourself!

It’s easy to get your balance assessed. Talk to your medical provider or to a physical therapist today! At Heather Lane PT, we can introduce you to our physical therapy programs designed to help people regain and/or maintain balance as they age. Don’t assume that you will have a lot of warning before you are in danger of taking a fall. Seek out a balance assessment today to find out what you can do to stay safe on your feet!

Yes, you CAN try this balance assessment at home!

In this video, Dr. Patrick Donovan, owner of Heather Lane PT, demonstrates some techniques for you to do on your own to help you determine whether you need help with your balance.

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