The relationship between balance and a healthy brain is more important than ever to understand. Words like “concussion” or “traumatic brain injury (TBI)” tend to evoke thoughts and images of a football or hockey player colliding with another player at full speed. However, did you know that the cause of the greatest amount of brain injuries in recent years is falls?
According to the CDC, falls accounted for 47% of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths related to TBI in 2013. Of those, the majority occurred in the youngest and oldest populations (age 0-4 and ≥75 respectively). Falls also accounted for the number one cause of death in people aged 65 years and older.1
As you age, the risk of falling increases dramatically. One of the primary reasons for this is a decline in balance. So, it stands to reason that if there are steps that can be taken to keep your balance at a healthy level as you age, then you can lower your risk of becoming another fall statistic. The good news is that with our modern understanding of the mechanisms of balance, there are strategies and interventions that can be employed to keep you steady on your feet. With help and guidance, you can maximize your potential of living to a ripe old age while maintaining your ability to engage in the activities that bring you the most joy without compromising your safety.
Before we discuss these strategies, let’s discuss the mechanisms that lead to a healthy sense of balance. Balance refers to your ability to remain upright and steady as you move through your environment. Your body maintains this sense of balance by relying on information from various sources. The first source is your inner ear. As your head changes position due to activities such as walking and running, your inner ear sends powerful signals to your muscles and allows them to make quick adjustments to keep you upright. In fact, these signals are among the fastest produced by your entire nervous system taking as little as 7 milliseconds to produce a response! The second source is the information your brain receives from your muscles and joints. When you move around, your muscles and joints send information to your brain that allows it to know what every part of your body is doing. The more you move, the better sense you brain has of what your body is doing. The third source of information comes from your eyes. When you look around, your brain uses your vision to determine how you are moving and where you are in relation to would-be obstacles.
In order for you to remain balanced, your brain has to integrate those three sources of information into a meaningful picture. If one of those systems becomes compromised, then a sensory mismatch occurs and it becomes harder for your brain to keep you standing upright. Signs that this could be occurring include sensations of vertigo, dizziness, car-sickness, sea-sickness, headaches, double vision, trouble focusing, trouble reading, and fatigue.
Our functional neurologist is uniquely trained in ascertaining which sensory system is not contributing appropriately to your balance system. Once the faulty system is identified, individualized therapies are tailored according to your specific needs to help you regain your balance and confidence on your feet. If you are experiencing any troubles with your balance or want to find out how your balance systems are functioning, give us a call today. Your well-being is too important to live a life out of balance.