The Balancing Act

Updated: Feb 5, 2019


Balance is an important part of everyday life. It helps with tasks such as getting out of a chair and walking, bending over to put shoes on, and even driving or going shopping. Balance problems can occur in the general population, and can cause many disruptions in everyday life.


Balance Control

Balance control is a complex process and depends on three major components:

1. Your sensory systems for accurate information about the body’s relationship to the environment

2. Your brain’s ability to process this information

3. Your muscles and joints for coordinating the movements required to maintain balance

Normally, balance control is accomplished ‘automatically’ and does not require our conscious attention. However, balance control can be interrupted and we may then require conscious effort to exert control over our balance.


Loss of balance control

In a person who has a problem with balance, there may be issues with senses of touch (feet, ankles, joints), sight (eyes) or inner ear motion sensors and their ability to work in harmony with the brain.

In some people, some of the sensors are missing and they may not realise they are losing balance. In others, the brain gets confused and creates and inaccurate feeling of falling when the person is actually in balance.

The risk of losing control over our balance increases with age, or as our senses or brain centres are exposed to degenerative or infectious diseases, or with the effects of injuries accumulated over a lifetime.


Balance and aging

Getting older does not mean that losing your balance is inevitable. Many healthy seniors are able to perform daily activities with few physical limitations. However, your risk of falling does increase with age as it is more difficult to walk steadily and keep your balance. It is also important to know that the effects of falling are worse with increasing age. 3 to 4 people out of 10 over the age of 65 fall each year, and up to 75% of people who fracture a hip never recover to the point they were before they had their fracture.

Along with problems with the balance systems mentioned above, there are other factors that can increase the risk of falls, including illness, changes in medications or a safe/unfamiliar setting.


So, how can I reduce my risk of falls and balance problems?

It is important to discuss with your GP the following things:

  • Past falls

  • Health conditions, including eyesight, hearing, muscle strength or balance

  • Medications you take, especially any changes or additions to medications. It is also important to talk to your doctor if you experience balance problems or a sensation of impaired balance.

  • You can also implement some strategies to reduce the risk of falls, including:

  • Making your home safer – get rid of things that can make you trip or slip, including furniture, electrical cords, clutter and loose rugs

  • Wear sturdy shoes that fit well

  • Take vitamin D pills (see our article on osteoporosis for the benefits of vitamin D)

  • Stay active and exercise regularly, including walking, swimming and Tai Chi (please see your doctor before commencing an exercise program)

  • Use a cane, walker and other safety devices if advised by your doctor

What should I do if I fall?

It is important to see your doctor right away, even if you aren’t hurt. Your doctor can help find out what caused you to fall, and how likely you are to fall again.


Feel free to book in with one of our friendly doctors online here:

https://www.hindmarshgp.com.au/online-booking


Or call us today on 8340 2233


References

Crowley K, Martin KA 2017, Patient Education: Preventing Falls (The Basics), UpToDate, retrieved 25/8/17, < https://www-uptodate-com.proxy.library.adelaide.edu.au/contents/preventing-falls-the-basics?source=search_result&search=balance%20patient%20info&selectedTitle=7~150#H4879712 >

Natus 2017, How to Control Your Balance, Natus Balance & Mobility, retrieved 25/8/17, < http://balanceandmobility.com/for-patients/how-to-control-your-balance/ >

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