Focusing on Balance: June 21, 2013

A top fear named by senior citizens is fear of falling. It often begins a downward spiral from injury to hospitalization, even death.

“Balance is so important because it’s part of our every day life. Every movement that we make necessitates good balance, to prevent falls, but also for someone to feel confident,” says Nathalie Grondin, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Finding a source of instability takes detective work. Entry-level balance tests determine whether someone has a weakness, but doesn’t pinpoint the underlying cause. Important when it comes to treatment.

“We do tests where we’re looking at a person’s eye movements to determine if there are any abnormal eye movements that can indicate if a person has a problem with the inner ear. We look at strength to see if there are any lower extremity or leg weakness. We look at sensation, we look at reflexes,” says Dawn Root, physical therapist with Lee Memorial Health System.

To truly look at balance, therapists are going high-tech. using both standing simulators, and sit-down sensory tests which focus on vision.

“The dynamic visual acuity test looks at how well the patients can stabilize their eyes on our target with their head moving,” says Root.

Sounds easy, but it can be difficult to follow. I know, because I tried it.

“What this test is testing for is how well your eyes stabilize the target, which is a normal function of the inner ear,” says Root.

The inner ear is home to the vestibular system. It collects information and coordinates vision with movement. Abnormalities can be helped with physical therapy.

“We can make tremendous improvements on balance depending upon what factors are causing their unsteadiness,” says Root.

“As we get older people think that having balance problems and falling is normal. It is not normal and not acceptable, says Grondin.

By focusing on balance, patients can see real improvements in their own standing.

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Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we’ve been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.