The Vestibular Disorder Association started the Balance Awareness Week in 1997 to spread awareness about balance disorders.
What is Balance?
Balance is the ability to maintain the body’s center of gravity over its base of support. A properly functioning balance system allows us to see clearly while moving, identify the position of our posture, determine direction and speed of movement, and make automatic adjustments to maintain our posture and stability in various conditions and activities.
Our balance is composed of three major sensory systems: vision, vestibular and somatosensory.
We use our vision to sense how we are moving in space. As we move through our environment we visually sense how fast we are moving, what direction we are going in, and our positioning relative to other things around us. Changes to our vision can ultimately affect our balance.
The vestibular system refers to our inner ear. This system is very specialized and can sense small changes in our posture and motion. It helps our body understand where we are in space, what position we are in and the speed, direction and acceleration of our movement. Changes to our vestibular system often result in symptoms of dizziness, motion sickness, and imbalance.
The somatosensory system is a term to describe all of the physical sensations we have. This includes our tactile sense, like being able to feel the floor underneath of our feet, and our joint position sense, the ability to feel what position our joints are in. Changes to sensation, like with neuropathy, can make it difficult for the body to sense how the body is positioned and moving through space and ultimately impair your balance.
Why is Balance so Important?
Balance impairments are dangerous because they can lead to falls. Each year, 3 million older adults are treated in the emergency room due to a fall. Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury and hip fractures, both of which can be fatal or severely life limiting. Preventing falls is a big topic during Balance Awareness Week!
How to Prevent Falls:
Talk to Your Doctor
- Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to evaluate your risk for falling and talk with them about specific things you can do.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. This should include prescription medicines and over-the counter medicines.
- Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about taking vitamin D supplements.
Strengthening and Balance Exercise
- Seeing a physical therapist can help to strengthen your body and balance systems to improve your balance and ultimately reduce your risk of falls.
- Staying active with regular exercise is also beneficial.
Have Your Eyes Checked
- Have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year
- Update your eyeglasses if needed
Make Your Home Safer
- Get rid of things you could trip over.
- Add grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet.
- Put railings on both sides of stairs.
- Make sure your home has lots of light by adding more or brighter light bulbs.
Balance and Fall Prevention are important topics to speak with your elderly family members and friends about! If you or someone you know is concerned about their balance or has fallen, schedule an initial balance evaluation with us today!