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CHECKING THE BALANCE Steps to maintain equilibrium important to prevent falls BY SARAH HENNING


ome mature health concerns are obvious: osteoporosis, heart problems, loss of hearing, diminished eyesight and weight gain. One problem that doesn’t get much attention until it’s gone is balance. At any age, balance-related falls large or small can equal bruises, strains, sprains and broken bones, though they are especially dangerous for those middle-aged and older. Yet balance just doesn’t get the splashy health headlines or community concern as those other oft-discussed maladies. “Until there’s been an injury, there’s been a fall — that’s when it becomes a concern,” says Whitney Samuelson, a personal trainer with Studio Alpha, 2449 Iowa, who says balance is usually the least of her clients’ initial concerns. Yet, addressed early — or at all — balance can be improved, decreasing your chances for a fall or injury as you age. UNDERSTANDING BALANCE Balance isn’t just a single skill, says physical therapist Dorian Logan. Rather, it’s an ability knitted together primarily from three major body systems. “The ability to balance takes a number of our body systems. Vision is one. Our tactile sense, or how we feel the ground, is another one. And then our vestibular system, which is the inner-ear system that tells us where we are in space and if our head is upright or horizontal,” says Logan, who works out of the Baldwin City office, 814 High St., of Lawrence and Baldwin Therapy Services. “All of our systems as we age decrease in their functions. Part of the reason our balance decreases and is not so good as we age is just because those three systems that are largely involved are decreasing in their ability to function.” Thus, if you begin to notice your balance is feeling shaky, it could be the result of one of those systems not working quite as well as it was previously. Logan says that

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LAWRENCE RESIDENT JANNEY BURGESS removes her hands from the chair in front of her during the exercise portion of a session on strength, balance and precautions against falling Feb. 9 at Meadowlark Estates. in her experience, vision is often the culprit — especially for younger individuals — but it would take a trip to a therapist to know for sure what the problem might be. “We rely so heavily on our visual system,” Logan says. “Even in an athlete that I might see, if you have them balance on one leg and take away their eyesight by closing their eyes, most people can’t do it for very long, sometimes just a few seconds even before they have to touch down on something or put their foot down.” IMPROVING ON BALANCE Luckily, balance is something that can be improved


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upon, preemptively or after a fall. Logan says if a therapist or doctor has identified a specific area that is causing balance issues, the other components of balance can be improved to help a patient compensate. Other important adjustments? Compensating with athome habits (like turning on lights at night), removing tripping dangers (area rugs and bath mats) and not trying to “hide” an instability or trying to “self-correct” by buying, but not learning to use, something such as a cane or walker. “I think most people who have instabilities kind of recognize that already. And sometimes they try to hide it,”




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Lawrence Journal-World 02-20-12  
Lawrence Journal-World 02-20-12  

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