Balance is something we learn early on as infants and children. First, we learn by sitting. Then, we learn by standing. Following that, we often learn with bicycles, roller-skates, and rollerblades. However, as we age, balance is something that can also decrease – especially in those who are elderly. When it comes to balance, it isn’t just a matter of learning how to stand on your own two feet. In order to be able to balance properly, many parts of our bodies also need to be functioning properly – including our bones, muscles, joints, eyes, nerves, heart, and even ears. If we’re not fully functioning, it’s not uncommon to start to experience balance problems.

Lack of balance can be caused by a variety of conditions. Vertigo, for example, is a condition that causes a sense of spinning/motion (also known as dizziness) even though nothing around you is actually moving. As a result, you lose your balance and can stumble. Vertigo is associated with many different medical conditions, including Meniere’s disease, migraines, vestibular neuritis, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, motion sickness, and even head injuries such as concussions. In addition, lack of balance can also be caused by other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as certain medications, and even psychiatric disorders such as depression, stress and anxiety.

If you are someone who frequently experiences balance problems, I recommend booking an appointment with your family physician for a thorough examination. Depending on the symptoms their severity, your physician may refer you for a series of tests including bloodwork, hearing tests, in addition to medical imaging. An in-office neurological exam is also sometimes done to check a patient’s reflexes and ensure that there is no abnormal brain activity or involuntary functions that could be contributing to the patient’s balance problems. If all of the tests conducted determine that there are no significant problems with your health, it may simply be a matter of learning balance restraining exercises, which can be taught to you by a physiotherapist. In order to prevent falls, you may also require the use of a cane or walker. If severe vomiting or dizziness also occurs along with your balance problems, you may need to be prescribed medication to help control those symptoms.

Because those who are elderly are much more susceptible to falls, especially if living on their own, it is important to reiterate that they should not be walking around in the dark, or doing any kind of climbing (i.e. up/down stairs, or on/off ladders) that could increase their risk of losing their balance or having a fall. Falls can be detrimental to seniors, as they are more likely to suffer from fractures, sprains and breaks.

For more information on fall prevention, visit the Canadian Balance and Dizziness Disorders society website at balanceanddizziness.org.