Fall Factors: Balance

Body and environment factors contribute to falls.  Body factors, consist of our sense of balance, muscle strength, flexibility, posture and muscle control.  Environment factors are poor lighting, obstacles, slippery or unstable surfaces and lack of support.  An issue or deficit in any one factor can increase your chances of taking a tumble, but in many instances multiple factors are present.

Our Sense of Balance

Our sense of balance comes from our ears, eyes and brains.  In youth, our inner-ears provide the dominant sense of balance.   But for many of us, as we age, our vision plays an increasing role in our overall perception of balance.  The impact of vision on balance can be seen in the dizzying sensation of vertigo that some experience in high places.  Over time, however, many of us begin to rely more and more heavily on our eyes to give us confidence about our balance and we trust and use our inner-ears less.  So it is, that changes in our vision--or poor lighting--become contributing factors in falls. As mentioned, our chief source of balance is our ears.  It originates in three semi-circular tubes inside the ear and two other small organs.  These three structures provide information to the brain stem and cerebellum, the parts of the brain at its base and connected to the spinal cord.  These parts of the brain are not part of your conscious awareness, so you can make small changes to your posture, to your limb position and even make changes to eye movement to help manage balance without being aware of it. When our sense of balance is thrown-off we can feel dizzy, disoriented or nausea.  There are some diseases that permanently affect our balance, but temporary balance changes can be from something as simple as a new medication, an inner-ear infection, a bad head-cold, or dehydration. Join us next week for Part 2 Fall Factors: Our Bodies Go to the previous post in this series: Fall Cause and Survival--Introduction