Balance: Not just about stronger legs but eyes and vestibular system!

Falls are serious problems in elderly people and sadly nobody teaches them how to prevent this fatal accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report falls as the most common cause of death and nonfatal injury in adults aged 65 years or older, and the world Health Organization reports a 100% projected increase in falls if preventative measures are not implemented. Unfortunately, the only solution the Medical or Physical Therapy field give to the elderly is to have them stand on one foot or even worse in a wobble board or blue pad.This only leads to a mismatch in their brains because unless they work in Cirque de Soleil, how many times in life do they really need to walk in an unstable surface? The importance of vision, eye reflexes, and vestibular reflexes in having a good balance has been overlooked by Medical Doctors and Physical Therapists. I highly recommend all my clients, friends and relatives to train and strengthen their eyes muscles and to stimulate their vestibular system with some simple exercises. Here is a summary of the recommended exercises taken from The Emergency Nursing journal
Disorientation can happen when input from one sense, such as poor vision, conflicts with another sense, such as intact vestibular sensations. In addition to an accurate vision prescription, there are some exercises that may help enhance balance by strengthening the eyes: 1. Look across the room and choose two items about 5 ft apart horizontally and slowly look from one to the other about 20 times. 2. Choose items vertically separated, such as the top and bottom of a window, and again look from one to the other about 20 times. Increase the speed as you get more comfortable. 3. Later, perform the same eye motion while nodding or shaking the head. This strengthens the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which means keeping objects in focus while the head is moving.
Besides walking as much as you can, perform ankle circles, up and down heel to shin, then move the knee in and out like when you move your foot “from the gas pedal to the brake pedal”. Another great exercise is to stand and sit up several times.
Vestibular exercises help the brain interpret signals from the inner ear. Interpreting signals accurately is important to keep the equilibrium. With the process of aging there is a decrease in blood flow to the inner ear and a decrease in the number of vestibular nerve cells.
Head movements: Initially seated perform the “yes dear, no dear” exercises. This is done nodding the head side to side or up and down while keeping your eyes fixed in an object and the exercise “I don’t know, dear” is done dropping the head as if you wanted to touch your shoulders side to side. When you feel comfortable with this exercises then do them with your eyes closed. By taking away the sense of sight, vestibular awareness is stimulated.
Then do this exercises standing while holding on a counter or something similar, eyes opened first and then closed.
Perform this exercises every day no matter what your age is. Recommend these exercises to your friends young or old. You may save a life!
by Adriana G Mireles

References: Sent Home Safer

Andi Foley, MSN, RN, Journal of Emergency Nursing, July 2012