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Keeping your balance

Created date

May 24th, 2011

Having good balance means you can control and maintain your body s position, whether you are moving or remaining still. An intact sense of balance is vital for your health as it helps you get around easily, stay independent, and carry out your daily activities without a fear of tripping or falling. But according to the National Institute on Aging, nearly eight million adults in the U.S. report having a problem with balance, and it becomes more common as you get older. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded are common signs of a balance disorder. Balance disorders are a common reason people fall. Falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fractures, can have a serious impact on your life. More than one-third of adults over age 65 fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many common causes

Disturbances of the inner ear like benign positional vertigo and Meniere s disease are main causes of balance problems, says Dimitri Cefalu, M.D., medical director at Seabrook in Tinton Falls, N.J. But your ability to balance can also be due to other health problems such as ear infections, arthritis, neurological conditions like neuropathies or Parkinson s disease, vision changes, or hearing changes. Medications can affect balance, including those prescribed for high blood pressure and heart disease, Cefalu adds. Other culprits may be antibiotics that are toxic to the inner ear, or any drug that causes side effects like dizziness or lightheadedness. A common cause of falls is orthostatic hypotension. The hallmark sign of this condition is a significant drop in blood pressure when you move to a sitting or standing position, Cefalu explains. Typically, when you sit up or stand, your heart rate and blood pressure reflexively adjust to the change of position to keep blood flowing to your major organs. A health condition or certain medications can inhibit this reflex. Whether or not you have orthostatic hypotension can be determined right in your doctor s office by measuring your blood pressure when you re lying down, sitting, and standing, Cefalu says. Even if you don t have this condition, it is critical you get up from a chair or bed very slowly, Cefalu advises.

Steady as you go

Treatments vary depending on the cause of the problem. You may need medication or other strategies to reduce the effects of a particular balance disorder. No matter what the cause, however, experts say that almost everyone can benefit from certain activities. Getting active and exercising on a regular basis can do wonders for your sense of balance, Cefalu says. It will also strengthen your bones and muscles which may help reduce the severity of an injury if you trip or fall. If you are having balance problems, tell your doctor about all of your health conditions and medicines and ask to be checked for orthostatic hypotension.

A balance program that works

At Erickson Living communities, we take multiple approaches to help residents achieve the best balance possible, says Mary Wagner, corporate director of rehabilitation services for Erickson Living. For instance, our therapists provide customized home exercise programs for people who have been discharged from therapy. Those who do not wish to exercise alone can go to the on-site fitness center. All Erickson Living communities offer both basic and advanced balance classes. After a resident has participated in the balance program, staff can objectively measure his or her improvement using specialized tests. Some Erickson Living communities also have state-of-the-art equipment specifically designed for measuring balance in older adults, Wagner adds. The Erickson Foundation analyzed results of a pilot group of participants in Erickson Living s balance program. They showed statistically significant improvements in all three areas of the balance measuring scales. Most importantly, participants said the class improved their daily functioning and that they would recommend it to their friends, Wagner says.

Incorporating wellness

We are integrating our rehabilitation and fitness specialties into a new Rehabilitation and Wellness department, Wagner says. In working together, the Rehabilitation and Wellness teams can offer creative means to assist the residents in maintaining an active lifestyle.