Balance disorders can cause serious injury and disorientation among the elderly.

Problems with balance may not sound like an especially dangerous affliction, but for elderly people, a problem with maintaining balance can amount to a very significant situation. Given the fact that older persons are more vulnerable to sustaining broken bones in a fall, and being injured in other ways as well, any loss of balance might well become dangerous. That's why companions for the elderly can provide a very useful service in Arlington, by recognizing when a senior citizen might have a balance problem. If help can be obtained to manage the problem, it could ward off future falls and injuries.

Balance problems in the elderly

There are a large number of possible causes for balance problems, and while the Arlington companion may not know which cause applies in a specific case, he/she can provide crucial assistance by getting a friend to see the family doctor. 

  • Inner ear problems - the inner ear is where your balance control system is located, and it consists of thousands of tiny hairs and nerve cells, which sense your positioning. As people age, the number of those nerve cells decreases dramatically, and balance becomes less certain.
  • Vertigo - this is a variation of the inner ear problem, characterized by the feeling that everything around you is spinning. There are several different causes of vertigo, but ultimately the symptoms are always highly disorienting.
  • Sudden low blood pressure - when you stand up quickly, it can cause an abrupt drop in blood pressure, a.k.a. hypotension, which makes you feel light-headed and dizzy. With more of the body's blood being temporarily concentrated in the legs, there is less to supply the heart, brain, and other organs, and the sensation of faintness results.
  • Anxiety disorder - your balance can be affected by feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation, and other profound emotional states.
  • General unsteadiness - There is a whole catalog of reasons why an elderly person might experience unsteadiness, including vision problems, numbness in the legs, joint or muscle problems, side-effects from medications, and persistent effects from an injury.
  • Concussion side-effects - anyone who has experienced multiple concussions in their lifetime is subject to recurring disorientation from the impact on the brain which has been sustained.

Whichever of these causes is the one responsible for your elderly companion's balance problems, a doctor will usually be able to identify it, and take measures to counteract the cause. Even very healthy older adults are quite likely to have less certain balance than when they were younger, simply because the sense of balance naturally declines throughout the aging process. In recognition of this fact, a good companion should be alert to the signs of diminishing capability with regard to balance, and be prepared to seek appropriate assistance.

How balance control works

The three major components of your body's system for controlling balance are comprised of the following:

  • sensory system information which determines your body's position relative to the surrounding environment
  • muscles and joints which coordinate the movements necessary to maintain balance
  • your brain's ability to process all the information it receives and direct muscle and joint movement accordingly

Normally, your body's senses provide the necessary information to maintain good balance, coordinating the eyes, ankles, feet, legs, and joints. Anyone who is experiencing some kind of balance disorder, however, will have a problem with at least one of these areas so that the person won't even realize that balance has been disrupted. A person might inaccurately feel they are losing their balance, or they might not recognize it at all when they really have lost their balance. Either way, it is highly disorienting and can lead to serious injury.

Treating balance disorders

While the inner ear's declining sensitivity to balance is pretty much universal during aging, balance problems are not necessarily inevitable for older people. The decline which takes place does not always become severe enough to degrade balance and cause serious issues - in fact, as a whole, elderly people of today have fewer balance problems than did their counterparts from several decades ago.

Because there are so many different potential causes of balance disorders, it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint the exact cause in any given case, but fortunately, significant advances have been made in this area over the past 20 years. Evaluation of balance disorders has become a specialty for some medical professionals, and the treatment of balance disorders has spawned a whole new kind of therapy for other professionals. The application of new treatment methods has made it possible for people who were afflicted by balance disorders to actually recover most of their sensitivity for balance, and live completely normal lives. 

With treatment now holding out the promise of significant recovery, it becomes even more important that companions of the elderly recognize balance disorders and seek out treatment for friends. Medical professionals who are skilled in balance and mobility issues are available in every part of the country to assist the elderly with treatment methods that will help to restore a sense of physical balance, as well as overall balance in the lives of the elderly.