Out of Balance?

Posted on

Oct 08, 2015

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Idaho - Boise and the Treasure Valley

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Poor balance and the fear of falling are primary reasons for declining mobility as a person ages. Mobility is an important factor in the quality of life. As balance worsens (increasing the risk of falling), it is more difficult to be mobile. Unfortunately, falling is the number one cause of hip fracture. Nearly 20% of all hip fractures in the elderly will result in death within the first year, and 50% of people will never regain their prior level of function. Physical therapy is a very viable and helpful resource in improving balance and mobility in order to maintain your independence. The key to helping someone improve balance is to understand why his/her balance is worsening in the first place. Determining the best intervention to address balance-related issues can be difficult and is typically multifactorial. Once the reason for the decline is determined, an effective treatment program can be designed by the physical therapist to address the issue. The following different body systems affect balance:

Musculoskeletal System A person needs to have adequate strength and bone structure for mobility and balance.
Somatosensory This system consists of all of the touch and nerve receptors in the muscles, tendons, and joints. A common problem affecting the somatosensory system is neuropathy. One very common form of neuropathy is from diabetes. Having numb feet makes it very difficult to balance!
Eyesight We rely heavily on our eyesight for mobility and to know where we are located in our environment. Eyesight can be affected by eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or even if you wear poorly fitting eyewear. Your eyesight is not just about the acuity at which you see, but is also how the eyes move. Gaze stabilization is how well you can stabilize on a target in your field of vision.
Vestibular System Our vestibular system is located in our inner ears. It provides us with information on head movement. It works to process information on the heads position in your environment. The vestibular system is one of the more adaptable systems, and with practice, it can be improved.
Central Nervous System The brain is responsible for coordinating all of the information gathered by the body's other systems. Damage from trauma or conditions such as Parkinson's disease, or a stroke can also affect balance. Other factors such as medications and dehydration can also affect balance.

Physical therapists work with individuals to help improve balance and positively affect ones mobility (and ultimately, his/her ability to function independently). Editors Note: This article was written by Ben Shatto, PT, DPT, OCS, Director of Therapy Services at MultiCare Home Health, and author of the website www.thePhysicalTherapyAdvisor.com

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