St. Augustine Woman's Journal - Educational Resource to the Women of St. Johns County Since 2009

By Reina Williams
Community Liaison, Island Doctors 

Is it a Balance Problem?

 

April 1, 2017 | View PDF



Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor.

It is important to know the signs of balance problems and steps you can take to prevent a fall. Have you ever experienced tripping, swaying, stumbling, dizziness, vertigo, or had a fall? It is important to know that a person's balance may be fine when standing still or only performing a single task at a time. Balance problems may become apparent when a person is moving about or trying to do more than one thing at a time, such as walking while turning the head to talk to another person. A Balance Problem can cause a fall and possible injury.

Balance problems can make a person fearful of performing simple daily activities. They may lose muscle strength and become frail because due to the avoidance of strenuous or challenging movements. A person who has balance problems may start to feel frustration and become depressed. 75% of American women older than 70 years are diagnosed as having "abnormal" balance. Older women are more likely than older men to develop balance problems. Even more so, balance problems increase by almost 30% in people aged 80 years and older.

A range of factors can cause balance problems: Muscle weakness, Joint stiffness, Inner ear problems, certain medications (such as those prescribed for depression and high blood pressure), and Lack of activity (sedentary lifestyle). Some medical conditions associated with balance problems are: Stroke, Parkinson's disease, Multiple sclerosis, Arthritis, Spinal cord injury, Cognitive diseases, and Diabetes.

A woman may develop balance problems when 1 or more of 4 systems in the body are not working properly: Vision, Inner ear, Muscular system, awareness of one's own body position (called "proprioception"). Poor vision can result from age, eye tracking problems, or eye diseases. Inner ear problems, also called vestibular problems, can develop from trauma, aging, poor nutrition, or disease. Body-position sense can become abnormal as a result of trauma or a disease, such as diabetes. Muscle strength and flexibility can decline due to lack of exercise or disease. The brain coordinates impulses from the eye, inner ear, and body-position senses, and sends signals to the muscular system to move or make adjustments to maintain balance. If one or more of the senses is not sending correct signals to the brain a person may not be able to maintain or correct their balance.

What Can You Do to Reduce Fall Risk: Assess your footwear make sure you have properly fitting shoes with nonskid soles. Look for Hazards in Your Home: Loose rugs, poor lighting, and unrestrained pet can pose problems. Arrange furniture so you have a clear pathway. Avoid standing on chairs or boxes to reach upper cabinets. The Bathroom: Place a slip-resistant mat adjacent to the bathtub for safe exit and entry. Install grab bars on the bathroom walls. Keep Moving: Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Perform a challenging physical activity each day to keep your muscles strong and flexible. Complete routine checkups for vision and hearing. Make sure your vision prescription is up-to-date.

Carefully manage chronic diseases like diabetes, whose long-term side effects can include balance problems. These side effects can be reduced by following the recommended diet and medication guidelines given to you by your physician. Monitor your medications. Make note of any medications that you think may be affecting your sense of balance. Talk to your physician about them. Do not smoke and avoid excessive alcohol intake. Keep an up-to-date list of all medications and frequently provide it to all doctors with whom you consult. Make sure all medications are clearly labeled and stored in a well-lit are. Report any falls to your physician and physical therapist immediately. They will evaluate the possible causes. Find A Balance and Fall Prevention Program: make sure it includes an exercise regimen. Falls can be decreased through education, exercise, and mindfulness.

What to Do If You Fall: Do not panic. Assess the situation and determine if you are hurt. Slide or crawl to the nearest couch or chair, and try to get up. If you cannot get up, call for help! If you are alone, slowly crawl to the telephone and call 911 or relatives. Consider having Island Doctors help you with establishing a medical home. We have health improvement programs designed to prevent and control heart disease and other age related illnesses.

For more information on topics like these please visit us on the web: IslandDoctors.com, or to schedule a tour of a facility near you, call toll free: 877-434-4676.

Reina Williams is a community liaison with Island Doctors. She has prepared and promoted several health education programs throughout North Florida.

 
 

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