Published on October 22, 2021

Bruce Mauzy: Maintaining Balance As We Age

By Bruce Mauzy For Messenger-Inquirer

Oct 21, 2021

Good balance requires the ability to pull together information from your eyes, inner ear, muscles, and joints to maintain a stable upright posture.

This intricate interaction is what enables you to “catch” yourself when you are suddenly thrown off balance. Improving or maintaining your balance is one of the best things you can do to prevent a fall.

As we age, our balance changes. Nerve impulses traveling to and from our brain slow down and our sensory organs(eyes and ears) give us less accurate position information.

Stiffness in our muscles and joints decreases the feedback and response times needed for rapid balance adjustments. While we cannot halt normal aging, specific training can assist in overcoming these challenges and decrease our risk of falling.

Improving balance requires strength, flexibility and balance activities. Regular and consistent balance training can significantly reduce your fall risk.

Falls are a significant public health concern and according to the CDC, more than 1/3 of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States, and 20% to 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries.

Falls can exact a toll long after the initial injury, outranking kidney disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in terms of effects on disability-adjusted life years according to a 2017 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study.

Falls are the fifth leading cause of death among aging adults in America.

Incorrect weight shifting is the most common cause of falls in elderly individuals, according to researchers who analyzed videos of actual falls in seniors taken from closed-circuit television systems in public areas in Canada.

In the study, 41% of the falls in the videos were caused by incorrect weight shifting.

In other words, the person shifted their body weight and caused their center of gravity to move outside their support base. Other factors noted in the study included falls due to: trips & stumbles (21%), hits or bumps (11%), loss of support (11%) as well as collapse (11%).

Most studies on falls focus on falls caused by slipping but slipping only accounted for 3% of the falls noted in this study.

Ninety% of hip and wrist fractures and 60% of head injuries occur due to falling in elderly individuals. Therefore, maintaining balance is as critical for an individual as they age as is maintaining their blood pressure, heart and lung function, blood sugar, vision, joint and muscle functions and other vital functions.

Fortunately, services are available to assist individuals with balance issues, including individualized balance program from a physical therapist and evidence-based fall prevention programs.

For more information about improving your balance to prevent falls, contact the Owensboro Health Healthpark at 270-688-5433.

Bruce Mauzy, PT, DPT, is the director of therapy services at Owensboro Health.

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.