Balance Changes with Aging…Safety First!

As physiotherapists we spend a lot of time educating our clients about normal functioning within our bodies: what is normal after an ankle sprain, how much swelling is normal, when should pain and soreness start to resolve after this time of surgery, etc. ? 

It is normal for there to be changes in our body as we age, including in our balance system (the vestibular system). Research shows that the number of nerve and hair cells and the blood flow to the vestibular system decreases as we age.  There are also degenerative changes (breaking down) or the crystals in our vestibular systems (inner ears) that may contribute to a higher chance of vertigo with increased age. These changes are slow and imperceivable at first but then start to present as difficulty walking in the dark, tripping over carpets or touching a stable objects when standing in one position for a long period of time.  

In regards to functional capacity, it means that the relationship between eye and head movement has decreased: eye movement does not keep up with head movement and visual sharpness (acuity) declines. This is comparable to “progressive bilateral vestibular deficits” (a medical term) that creates the feeling of disequilibrium:  you start to “feel off”.  

So what can you do about this?  

If you find yourself with vertigo, there is treatment that can be provided by a vestibular physiotherapist.  Research shows that even the elderly respond well to the vertigo treatment.  

If you find yourself “feeling off”, you can participate in vestibular physiotherapy which will assist with providing exercises to improve your balance, your strength and endurance, education and tips on assessing your home for safety and strategies to modify your environment to support and protect you.  

It is normal for there to be changes in our body as we age but those changes don’t have to lead to physical dysfunction, restricted social participation or a decreased quality of life!  We are here and ready to work with you to enhance your vestibular function!  

Caitlinn (Thompson) Bowman, Vestibular Physiotherapist

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