|What is a Balance Disorder?
Balance disorders are usually described in two categories. The first is dizziness, vertigo or motion intolerance. These problems may occur in acute or sharp attacks lasting only seconds, or sometimes for hours. This may simply be caused or worsened by rapid head movements, turning too quickly, or while walking or riding.
The second is a sense of imbalance, unsteadiness or what some people refer to as a loss of surefootedness.
Dizziness, Vertigo, and Motion Intolerance
The primary organ of balance (equilibrium) in the human body is located in the inner ear. The fluid-filled inner ear serves as both the sense organ for spatial orientation and head movement, as well as hearing. The inner ear is the body's gyroscope, telling the brain at all times where the head is in space. The balance portion of the inner ear is referred to as the labyrinth or vestibular system. It consists of three semi-circular canals, and other structures in each ear. It is the movement of the fluid through these canals which constantly informs the brain as to the direction and the speed at which the head is moving in. The vestibular system then directs the movement of the eyes to correspond with the head movement.
If for any reason there is an abnormal increase or decrease in the signal being sent to the brain from any of the balance canals, the brain will perceive this as an exaggeration or hallucination of motion. The result is what we commonly term dizziness or vertigo.
Changes in the equilibrium portion of the inner ear may be caused by illness, infection, disease, head trauma, or simply the natural aging process. For others, motion sickness may be traced to their early childhood and remain through adulthood. Motion intolerance may be in the form of a sense of exaggerated motion, especially while trying to focus the eyes, or an inability to watch moving objects while the person is stationary, such as an escalator or rapidly moving traffic.
Although symptoms may only last for several days, it is not uncommon for an improperly diagnosed or untreated symptom to linger for years. The good news is that according to the National Institute of Health - 90% of all causes of dizziness can be found with a thorough medical evaluation. 85% of balance and dizziness symptoms are caused by inner ear disturbance. The good news is that most balance problems can be treated medically, surgically, or with vestibular rehabilitation.
Loss of Balance and Unsteadiness
Loss of balance and unsteadiness are changes that are often seen with aging. The fear of falling is the number one health concern of individuals in their later years. This fear appears not to be unfounded as the National Institute of Health statistics indicate that balance related falls account for 50% of accidental deaths in the population over 65. In addition, nearly 300,000 hip fractures and 3 billion dollars in medical expenses are due to balance related falls.
Human equilibrium is a complex system which requires correct input from three sensory receptors; the inner ear, vision, and somatosensory, which is our body's position as it is perceived by our feet, ankles, muscles and joints. All three signals must then correspond and be correctly received by our central nervous system. The cerebellum, which is the motor control portion of the brain, must then execute the correct movement of our musculoskeletal system, so that we may maintain our center of gravity. If any one component of this complicated system does not work properly, then we will have a loss of balance or coordination.
The body's natural aging process may affect any one or all of these senses, as well as the central nervous system's ability to interpret them and then to react appropriately. It is not unusual to for someone who has fallen, to say that they saw the curb or step but that their body just wasn't able to react fast enough to keep their balance.
Lifeline's Vestibular Rehabilitation and Balance Retraining programs are helping mature adults reduce their risk of falling, and improve their body's balance and coordination. These programs are specially designed for the specific needs of the individual based on their strengths and weaknesses. The programs work in conjunction with the patient's health care provider so that it is coordinated with any other treatment or ongoing medical care.