Balance Problems | Senior Living Link

Chad Scheib

Balance Problems

Posted by Chad Scheib on January 31, 2022

Balance Problems

Balance problems/disorders are very common for older adults. In fact, an estimated 90 million Americans experience at least one balance problem in their lifetime. Some of these individuals develop balance deficits which result in some type of functional limitation. For individuals over 75 years old, dizziness is the top reason that they visit a physician. In addition, the leading cause for severe injury and death in those over 65 years of age is falling attributed to lack of proper balance. 

But age is not the only reason that balance problems occur.

The topic of balance: How important is your balance? What are some symptoms and typical causes of these balance problems? What should you do if you suspect that you have a balance problem/disorder? And how can you reduce the risk of balance problems?

How important is your balance?

To put it simply, good balance allows you to be able to move freely; you have control over your body movement and you can maintain your body’s position. Proper balance helps you walk, get up from a sitting position, climb upstairs, and bend over – all of these actions without falling and without added effort.

So, it is not surprising that a good balance is essential in remaining independent to engage in routine daily activities.

What are some symptoms of balance problems/disorders?

Often, if someone is exhibiting balance problems, they may feel a combination of being lighthearted, nauseous, and dizzy. The room may appear to be spinning around them. They may also feel that they are about to fall or that they are actually falling. Their vision might be blurred and they may be confused and disorientated. In addition, there might be other symptoms of diarrhea, changes in blood pressure and heart rate, or a sudden panic, anxiety, and fear sensation. The individual may feel overly tired and depressed. Any number of these symptoms can appear in short time periods or last for quite some time.

What are some typical causes of these problems/disorders?

Many balance problems/disorders are the results of problems in the inner ear. That’s because the vestibular system, within the inner ear, is mainly responsible for the balance. When the vestibular system is swollen or infected, it can lead to labyrinthitis.  Upper respiratory infections and other viral infections along with bacterial infections can cause labyrinthitis.

Some other diseases can cause balance problems or dizziness (e.g., a stroke or low blood pressure). Injuries to your head and the side effects of taking certain medicines can cause balance problems as well.

What should you do if you have a balance problem?

It is important to consult with your doctor or medical professional if you notice any balance problems. Your diet, intake of liquids, and body movements may be addressed. For example, balance problems caused by high blood pressure can usually be managed by eating less sodium, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. And if you have low blood pressure and this is causing balance problems, you may be advised to drink more water or additional fluids, avoid alcohol, and be extra careful of your movements and posture (e.g., when standing up – stand up slowly and don’t cross your legs when you are sitting, etc.).

You can talk to your doctor about the necessity of curtailing any activities like driving and ways to reduce the chances of falling during other routine activities (e.g., walking up steps, exercising, going to the bathroom, etc.). It is also helpful to note when these problems occur. Is it at a certain time of the day/night or during a specific activity? By pinpointing when the “imbalance” occurs, your doctor will be more accurately address the problem and help control it.

Your doctor may seek out other medical professionals if the symptoms don’t disappear or can’t be controlled. They may refer you to an otolaryngologist, a specialist who deals with problems of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck. Or perhaps you may be referred to a physical therapist or vestibular rehabilitation therapist to design a series of exercises for you.

Additional suggestions to prevent injury when you experience balance problems

It is best not to walk in the dark. You can leave a nightlight on in your bedroom and also the hallway and bathroom in case you need to get up during the night. When walking outdoors, it is advisable to wear low-heeled shoes and avoid sandals so you are less apt not to trip. A cane or walker might be recommended. Finally, adding handrails to steps or steep pathways around your house would be a safety caution to consider. 

7 Balance exercises to add to your day

Ask your doctor about adding some balance exercises to your daily activity. By spending a few minutes each day doing these simple balance exercises, you will be sure to improve your balance and get stronger and more fit in the process.

#1-Single Limb Stance: Hold onto the back of a chair. Lift your right foot to balance on your left foot. Hold that position for as long as you can. Then repeat with your left foot. Try to work up to balancing on each foot for a minimum of one minute.

#2-Heel to Toe Walking: This exercise helps strengthen your legs so you can walk without falling. Put your right foot in front of your left foot by touching the top toes of the left foot. Then move your left foot in front of your right by putting the weight on your heel. Shift your weight to your toes. Repeat the step with your left foot. Try to walk this way for 20 steps.

#3 Rock the Boat: Stand with your feet apart, the same distance as the width of your hips. Press your feet firmly into the ground while standing up straight. Transfer your weight to the right foot while slowly lifting your left foot off the ground. Then repeat with the other foot. Aim to hold each position 5 times.

#4 Clock Reach: Hold onto the back of a chair with your left hand. Imagine that you are facing the no. 12 of a clock with your back toward no. 6. Now, lift your right leg and extend your right arm so it’s pointing to no. 12. Then, point your arm toward no. 3, followed by no. 6. Bring your arm back to no. 3, and then return it to no. 12. Stand straight and look ahead the entire time. Repeat this exercise two times per side.

#5 Single Limb Stance with Arm: Stand with your feet together and your arms at your side next to a chair. Lift your left hand over your head. Then, slowly raise your left foot off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

#6 Side Leg Raise: Stand behind a chair with your feet apart. Slowly lift your right leg to the side. Stand straight and look ahead. Lower your right leg slowly and repeat 10-15 times per leg.

#6 Marching in Place: You can hold onto a counter if needed. Stand straight and lift your right knee as high as you comfortably can. Lower it, then lift the left leg. Repeat lifting 20 times per leg.

#7 Toe Lifts: Stand straight and put your arms out in front of you. You can hold onto a counter or chair if needed. Raise yourself up on your toes as high as you can, then gently lower yourself down to the floor. Lift and lower yourself 20 times.

In Summary

You can do something about your balance. If you are experiencing balance problems/disorders, it is important to talk to your doctor to see about any underlying causes and how the situation can be helped. You can also add some simple balance exercises to your day to help improve and maintain your balance as well. In the long run, your body will become stronger and more fit and you will be more able to combat the chance of falling and injuring yourself as you age. 

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