By Matthew Seldine, AuD
Did you know that September is host to Balance Awareness Week?
At Hearing Partners of South Florida, we specialize in hearing and balance disorders. This blog will help you understand the processes in maintaining your balance. Healthy balance requires a complex interaction of processes within the brain and body working together. This includes the inner ear, eyes, and sensors in your feet, joints, and muscles.
Healthy balance requires a complex interaction of processes within the brain and body working together. This includes the inner ear, eyes, and sensors in your feet, joints, and muscles. Each of these systems sends information to the brainstem which sorts it all out and integrates it with other learned information located within the cerebellum. Balance, therefore, also relies on high-level cognitive processes such as learning, memory, and response time. Lastly, muscle strength and flexibility are key factors. If any of these systems is “off” or impaired, we may have a problem with our balance. Many of these processes decline with age making balance an even more complicated process as we get older. Neurologic conditions may also be involved.
Understanding that the cause of a balance disorder may be due to any one of a number of impaired processes, it is important to seek a proper diagnosis. This is because understanding the cause will help guide proper treatment and hopefully reduce lingering symptoms, thus preventing serious occurrences such as falls. Multiple providers may be involved in this process, each who specialize in a different piece of the balance puzzle. Some common causes of balance disorders include an inner ear disease, medications, head or neck injury, changes in blood pressure, skeletal or visual system disturbances, neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, migraine, Multiple Sclerosis, or forms of neuropathy, arthritis, and muscle or joint weakness, to name a few.
The audiologists at Hearing Partners will focus on assessing the inner ear’s vestibular system and related balance pathways. The vestibular system primarily involves three semi-circular canals to help with angular motion and two otolith organs to help with linear motion located in each ear. Together, our inner ears help us orient our head and body in space. Since our inner ears also are responsible for hearing, it is common to have this process evaluated as well when addressing balance concerns.
Exercises exist to help strengthen your balance and ideally reduce the risk of falling. Since balance requires cognitive effort, effective exercises are designed to challenge multiple systems at once. This is the key to forming strengthened balance pathways over time. Dual tasking – such as walking and talking – or performing tai chi are excellent practices. Cognitive training may make a difference too by utilizing games to test and strengthen attention, memory, and visual and auditory processing. Building strength is extremely important, especially leg strength, so weight training may be considered. Lastly, working with a knowledgeable trainer who understands the interaction of these processes is crucial. And then… Practice, Practice, Practice.