Let’s talk about balance and aging.
I don’t mean work-life balance, or balancing your chequebook, although these are also important. I’m talking about the physical skill of balance.
This is an incredibly complex skill that involves coordinating your muscles and senses together to ensure that you don’t fall over, and uses three senses in particular: our vision, or ability to see; our proprioception, our ability to know where our body is in space; and our vestibular system, the complex system in our middle ear that tells us which direction our head is moving and which way is up.
We challenge our balance every day in small ways, whether it is walking on uneven ground such as snow, standing on a bus or escalator, walking up and down stairs, or even just to sit in a chair. If any of these senses is not working 100 per cent then these simple tasks become much more difficult.
Balance matters because as we age falling becomes a significant risk. According to research, 35 per cent of people over the age of 65 fall each year, and falls can lead to much more serious problems. Ninety-five per cent of all broken hips are a result of a fall, and one in three people over the age of 50 will die within one year of a broken hip. Falls are the main cause of injury and injury-related disability and death in older people.
Things have taken a serious tone here, but it is not all bad news. Falls are preventable and balance is a skill that we can maintain and improve. Balance is a skill that we learn and refine through childhood and adolescence.
Once we become adults our balance skills stabilize. Finally, as we move into older adulthood we start to see a decline. But as with any skill you need to practice it in order to maintain it, as the old saying goes “use it or lose it.” This is why it is important to work on your balance: in order to avoid difficulties and potential falls.
There are simple activities that can be incorporated into everyday routines that will help to maintain your balance as you age. Try standing on one foot while you brush your teeth, take dance lessons (the fancy footwork can help improve your balance and proprioception), or try to walk along the outside lines of the crosswalk (think of it as a balance beam). Have your vision checked on a regular basis, see a physiotherapist if you experience dizziness or a feeling of being off balance, and consider the use of a walking aid if needed.
If you have concerns, feel that you or a loved one are at risk of falling, or want to learn more about improving balance, speak to your healthcare provider and book a consult with your physiotherapist, the expert in movement and balance.
Demian is originally from Canmore Alberta where he spent eight years as a member of the Canadian National Nordic Combined Team. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Human Kinetics from UBCO and graduated with his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Alberta. Demian has translated his extensive sports background into the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries, is trained in vestibular rehabilitation and Kinesio-taping, chronic pain, and has extensive experience in pediatric physiotherapy. Demian is an owner of Carson Therapy a physiotherapy clinic in downtown Vernon.