Prevent Falls: Keep Balance Controls Healthy

February 23, 2011

By Philippe A. Souvestre, MD & Mick Matheusik, M.Sc
Posted: Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Source: Senior Living Magazine – Special Home Edition – February, 2011 –

According to the famous Wilkins retrospective study in 1999, falls are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in older Canadians: the sixth leading cause of death. One in three people over 65 years old and one in two aged 85 or over fall each year, and about half of these falls involve fractures.

Non-fatal falls cause physical trauma, fear of walking and physical degeneration from immobility, loss of independence and having to leave one’s home. This impacts the victim, the family, the health-care system and society. Falls cost Canadians $3 billion annually. Fall prevention would be a major step toward enhancing mobility, letting people stay in their homes while saving health-care costs. Avoiding falls and accidents are a key part of remaining active.

Conventional medicine mainly offers damage control in the form of drugs (with their side-effects), surgery (often with serious consequences) and physical therapies. None of these measures addresses the source of falling. A revolutionary approach pioneered by NeuroKinetics, however, stops the cause of falling; the fundamental factors that underlie it relates to the health of the sensory-motor (input-output) areas of the brain. This approach intervenes only at the level of the brain and works as long as there is no actual brain tissue damage, but only neural pathway dysfunction.

Both fall proneness and falling reflect the same condition dominated by a loss of postural balance always combined with many other physical, cognitive, emotional, intellectual and behavioural symptoms. These include pain, stiffness, vertigo, balance and dizziness disorders, transient blurry vision, anxiety, mental concentration and short-term memory issues, co-ordination issues, sleep disorders and fatigue, depression/irritability, and reduced tolerance for other sensory data (for example, hypersensitivities), leading to a loss of balance control. Loss of equilibrium can occur either instantly, as when tripping, having a stroke, or gradually over a long period. Emotional or physical trauma can cause acute or lasting, deteriorating changes in the brain’s ability to process incoming stimuli and adapt appropriately by maintaining upright orientation. This slow decline in the brain’s functional ability to adapt and effectively sustain vertical posture and gait appears in the form of fall proneness.

The usefulness of posture, gait, and balance testing is typically overlooked or at best, generalized in mainstream care, at least in Canada for the general population other than professional athletes or other specialized occupations such as pilots and astronauts. However, detailed assessments identify difficulties, which allow safe standing and fall prevention. The causes of difficulty in walking, decreased range of motion, weakness, slower reaction time in co-ordination and body adjustments, increased stiffness and muscles spasms/tension, postural pain, a decrease in brain processing ability are all assessed and then can be addressed with specific treatments.

The important message here, which bears repeating, is that fall proneness does not begin with the feet; it begins within the central nervous system, that is, the brain and spinal cord. Conventional medicine treats the peripheral symptoms and may not address the cause, which is brain dysfunction. The good news is that there is a way of stopping fall proneness by restoring the function of the brain controls in the relevant areas.

Continure reading more on Falls and How to Prevent

Other than the traditional external factors … (e.g. improved lighting, grab bars, non-slip floors, removing obstacles, added personal assistance, etc.) that are typically incorporated by occupational therapists, home care workers and/or family members, having an active lifestyle significantly decreases the risk of falls (assuming a healthy brain). Underlying this is training in sensory motor skills with a qualified health-care provider and incorporating basic balance enhancing activities such as:

* Walking as briskly as possible while breathing deeply, alternating with slow pace walks in the same session. The ideal is to walk at least one hour every day. The time can be broken up throughout the day and still be effective. Studies show that walking regularly decreases falls by 50 per cent.

* Stretching increases both flexibility and strength; ideally 20 minutes, two times per day. Head, neck, and back (bending), hips, ankles, shoulders, arms – rotation, flexion, extension.

* Attention to posture – for example, avoid lying in bed with head bent against pillow watching TV. Be aware to stand up straight.

* Enhance space perception – activities such as walking, dancing, breathing, stretching and tai chi are all effective.

* Exercise visual perception – move eyes open, and then closed, in all directions of vision. This can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. Eye direction affects balance lean.

* Promote efficient breathing – deep breathing exercises while walking or other activity. Increases heart-lung performance and improves oxygen in the blood, which also assists with brain function.

* Drink plenty of water or other non-diuretic fluids. The brain contains a higher percentage of water than the rest of the body.

* Exercise the mind with precision. Puzzles, building models, activities requiring fine-tune dexterity, sequencing and playing or even listening to music are examples.

This is a multi-system approach as the balance control system is complex.  Balance control requires a combination of both physical and mental function. The important point is to select the level of activities that are compatible with one’s abilities. Remember the old adage of “Use it or lose it.”

If these lifestyle tips do not improve balance health, then there may be an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed.

For more information, visit the following websites:

Source: Senior Living Magazine – Special Home Edition – February, 2011 http: