The Importance of Balance and How to Improve It

From the time we take our first steps until we’re shuffling around the house in our golden years, balance is an important part of our lives. But only after scrolling through Merriam-Webster dictionary’s seventh entry for the word “balance” will you find this definition. Here, it defines “balance” as “physical equilibrium.”

When your job is to assist people every day, helping them to maintain and improve their balance means everything. The alternative can be dangerous and even deadly. In this article, we will explore the different ways seniors can avoid slips, falls, and dizziness. We will also identify some of the signs that a loved one may be experiencing problems with balance.

The elderly are more prone to falls, so it is crucial to practice balancing to prevent falls, one fall can lead to another. A Yale research study indicates that senior citizens who have fallen within the past year are 50% more likely to fall again the next year.

Therefore, as our bodies age, practicing spatial awareness prevents injuries and accidents. Whether it’s shopping around Perimeter mall or strolling through Morgan Falls Overlook Park, good balance strengthens our muscles to help us accomplish everything we want to do. Exercises like Tai Chi, yoga, and other aerobic activity can help preserve and develop muscle strength, body posture and overall balance. Even less strenuous activity like simply raising each foot off the floor, or stretching from side to side, can help your loved one to practice balance.

There are some particular areas of the human body that are closely associated with balance. The first is sight. Problems with vision such as cataracts or glaucoma can alter balance. Second is joint and muscle movement. Different types of knee arthritis such as Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, and a torn meniscus hinder joint movement. And third, although not many people realize it, the vestibular system —or the inner ear— plays a major role in our balance. If these three areas are not functioning properly, your loved one may suffer from spatial disorientation.

As we age, we begin to lose depth perception, which means we have a harder time observing our surroundings. Check with an optometrist that your senior is using the right corrective lenses with an up-to-date prescription. Improved vision means improved balance. Make sure walkways and pathways are well lit. Removing obstacles like rugs, cords, small furniture, and even animals from a loved one’s house can help reduce the risk of falling. All it takes is a simple visual scan of the building to identify most of these kinds of barriers. Mounting handles and rails or placing walking aids in strategic places can also provide additional protection every day.

Many of the aforementioned exercises work to keep the vestibular system healthy, but sometimes more acute or chronic conditions are present. A common type of vertigo is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BBPV). The buildup of tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear float through your ear canal, causing you to feel like the room is moving or spinning. If your loved one starts experiencing an episode of vertigo, be sure to contact your health care provider as soon as possible. These dizzy spells can last from a week to several months if left unchecked.

Ménière's disease is a chronic condition similar to BBPV that arises from a fluid imbalance in the inner ear. Steroid injections and low-sodium diets help to reduce fluid retention in this case. Infections of the inner ear, or labyrinthitis, are common ailments that profoundly affect balance, too. Ototoxic drugs like Vicodin, which relieves pain, and Aspirin can also cause damage in the inner ear. And previous head injuries, even if they happened long ago, can have a long-term effect.

High blood pressure as well as the medications that treat it such as Atenolol can cause dizziness, so finding the right dosage for your senior is vital. Different types of medication interactions can harm balance for seniors. In addition to ototoxic drugs that can damage hearing, many blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, some pain killers, sedatives and anxiolytics can have the side effect of dizziness or fatigue.

There are many different ways to detect signs of progressing imbalance in a loved one, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious. Here’s one easy way: observe a senior as they are standing or sitting down. Watch for swaying or sudden jerks. Observe a loved one’s gait as they walk in or out of a room. You may want to look for bruising or swelling. Conduct periodic balance checks, suggest a vision or hearing test, and urge more frequent exercise whenever possible. Your loved one might not want to open up about a fall; therefore, it’s important that you look out for those small signs so that you can help to take care of them.

Lastly, always be aware that a balance problem could indicate something more. Many serious neurological disorders can be detected through balance issues. Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophies, Osteomalacia, and Dementia often first appear in the form of an imbalance issue. Be sure to speak with the doctor if you notice your loved one is having issues with maintaining their balance

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