Every year 1 in 3 people over age 65 fall.
1 in 2 people over age 80 fall each year.
People that fall once are twice as likely to fall again.
According to the US Center for Disease Control, 2.4 million people at least 65 years old visit an emergency room after falling each year. Every year, 23,000 people die from falls.
Poor Balance and Falls
Balance is controlled by your brain. Your brain collects information from "sensors" in your body to figure out where you are in space. Based on that information, your brain sends out instructions to your muscles, so you can do things without falling. This includes things like getting up from a chair, standing still, walking, or going up and down stairs.
Brain Center Keep You in Balance
Balance centers in your brain takes information from your eyes, your inner ears, and sensors in your muscles and joints. If the sensors and balance center are all working well, you won't lose your balance. When everything is working, even if you trip, your brain sends out instructions for movements to prevent a fall.
Your Eyes and Your Balance
As long as there is enough light we can see where we are in space. We can see things like the ground, the horizon, and things we might trip on.
As we get older, our inner ear, joint and muscle receptors don't works as well. We start to depend more on our eyes. A lot of problems happen as we get older and don't see as well. It's usually because it's too dark. You can't see where you are in space. Your inner ear, and joint and muscle receptors can't compensate. You lose your balance and fall. People not wearing their glasses also trip on hazards they don't see.
Your Inner Ear and Your Balance
There is a complex balance sensor in your inner ear. Fluid filled circular canals are attached to a fluid filled sack full of small crystals. The canals and sacks are lined with hair like sensors. When you move your head, this causes a wave in the fluid, the hairs move, and signals are sent to your brain about the direction and speed you head is moving.
As you get older, things - including your inner ear - sometimes don't work as well. Even if your inner ears is fine but you aren't moving as much for other reasons, you inner ear won't work as well.
If you don't use it, you will lose it. Or at least some of it.
If your eyes go a little, and your inner ear goes a little, and the balance centers in your brain goes a little your brain gets less input, your brain doesn't send out good signals, and it's easier to lose your balance and fall.
Your Eyes and Inner Ears Work Together
Your inner ears and eyes both send information to centers in your brain that sends back instructions to your eyes to coordinate you head and eye movements. That's how we are able to turn our heads and stay focused on a still or moving object. Or whey we can keep our head still and track an object with our eyes. This also helps keep us standing up and balanced.
2 Things Can Happen to Cause a Fall
First, there is the general use it our lose it rule. We move less, we use the balance system less. The balance system doesn't work as well. Movements of your eyes and head are not as coordinated. If you don't have your glasses on or it's dark, you eyes can't help and now your inner ear helps less. The sensors in your joints or muscles are not working as well. This make you more likely to fall.
The second way is a more specific problem with your inner ear. In some people, some of the bone crystals move from the sack and into the circular canals in you inner ear. The crystals sit on the hair-like sensors that send information to your brain that your head is moving. Your brain sends signals to your eyes to move. This causes vertigo. You are more likely to fall.
Your Muscle and Joint Balance Sensors
There are a lot of different kinds of receptors in your joints and muscles. They all send your brain information about your muscles and joints including:
How fast your muscles and joints are moving
What direction they are going
How muscle force there is
It's the same story. As we get older and don't move as much, things - including muscle and joint sensors - don't work as well. It you don't use it, you will lose it.
What You Can Do
Come in for a balance screening examination. We use standard tests to see if you have a balance problem and are at risk for falling. We will explain what can be done and then set-up a treatment program.
You can CLICK HERE and fill out the form and we will schedule you for a Balance Screening Examination. If you prefer to schedule by phone or have any questions please call our screening examination coordinators Allison or Penny at 860-228-4883.
Christopher DiPasquale, PhD, PT, OCS, SCS, CHT is a physical therapist at Performance Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine with offices in Hebron and Colchester, Connecticut. He is board certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Sports Physical Therapy and a Certified Hand Therapist by the Hand Therapy Certification Committee.
For more information visit pptsm.com or call the office: Colchester 860-537-3014 or Hebron 860-228-4883.