Keeping Balanced in Later Years

Keeping Balanced in Later YearsDr. Zapanta
by: Vicente Zapanta, M.D.

Older people are at a higher risk of having balance problems; 75 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of 70 are diagnosed as having “abnormal” balance which can lead to falling. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in people older than 65 and the most common cause of injury visits to an emergency room for older adults. Many of these falls and injuries are caused by balance disorders that can be prevented.

If an older person has experienced balance disorder symptoms including lightheadedness, dizziness or difficulty getting up or out of a chair, it is recommended to get an evaluation. During the evaluation, specially-trained physical therapists conduct a series of tests involving motion, strength, coordination, visual tacking and balance to assess overall physical ability, take a medical history and ask detailed questions.

Balance problems make it difficult for people to maintain stable and upright positions when standing, walking, and even sitting. The fear of falling is real and scary. It can begin to limit an older person’s mobility and simple daily activities such as walking, bathing and socializing. As a result, they may lose muscle strength and become frail. A person who has balance problems may also start to feel frustration and become depressed.

Balance problems can be caused by various medical conditions as well as muscle weakness, poor vision or eye disease, joint stiffness, lack of activity or a sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, certain medications including some prescribed for depression and high blood pressure, and simple aging. Some balance disorders can be specifically caused by inner ear deficits. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) is an exercise-based program designed to improve balance problems through central nervous system adaptation.
To help maintain balance, I recommend that people:

• Keep moving. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Perform a challenging physical activity every day. If you work out or follow a fitness program, keep it up!
• Have yearly checkups for vision and hearing. Make sure your vision prescription is up-to-date.
• Carefully manage chronic diseases like diabetes, whose long-term side effects can include balance problems.
• Monitor your medications. Make note of any medications that you think may be affecting your sense of balance and talk to your physician.
• Practice Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a deep meditation and slow fluid movement practice that can be very helpful to seniors facing balance difficulties.
• Report any falls to your physician immediately. They will evaluate and address the possible causes.

For more information, join me Tuesday, May 9, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., for a free balance screening, information on balance disorders and light refreshments at Raritan Bay Medical Center Perth Amboy. Registration is required, call 1-800-DOCTORS.
Dr. Vicente Zapanta is an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist) and director of the Center for Balance at Raritan Bay Medical Center, a member of the Hackensack Meridian Health family. The Center for Balance is designed specifically for anyone with dizziness, vertigo, difficulty judging distance, people with an increased risk of falling and anyone who has fallen once in the past year. The Center uses the most advanced tests to diagnose and treat balance or dizziness disorders. To make an appointment, call 732-324-5030.

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