The Link Between Balance Disorders & Falls
It is estimated that 15% of the adult population in the U.S. experience issues with balance. The National Institute on Deafness & Other Communication Disorders estimates that 20% of adults ages 65-75 and 25% of adults ages 75 and older have a balance disorder.
Balance disorders impact the ability to maintain balance, can contribute to dizziness, and also increase the risk of falling. Studies show that people with balance disorders are much more likely to experience falls.
Link Between Balance Disorders & Falls
Extensive research shows that people with a balance disorder are much more likely to have a history of falling. This includes a significant 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers investigated the relationship between balance disorders and falls by surveying a population of 607 people with an average age of 74 years old. 34.3% of people had a balance disorder and the rest did not. Researchers found that:
- For people with a balance disorder, 58.1% had fallen in the past year, and 90.3% had a fear of falling.
- For people without a balance disorder, 29.8% had fallen, and 60.3% had a fear of falling.
This data reveals that people with a balance disorder were nearly twice more likely to experience falls compared to those without a balance disorder. Additionally, the anxiety around falling is much more prevalent among those with a balance disorder.
How Balance Disorders Cause Falls
A balance disorder is a medical condition that impacts one’s ability to maintain balance and/or also the experience of vertigo. Vertigo is the sensation that the environment around you is spinning, producing dizzy spells that can be intermittent or chronic. This can produce falls in a few ways including:
- Vestibular system impacted: the vestibular system is the sensory system that is responsible for maintaining balance. It consists of the vestibular labyrinth which involves the semicircular canals, otolithic organs, and the cochlea. Balance disorders can result from an accumulation of fluid in the vestibular labyrinth which prevents the sensory cells from communicating information about position and movement to the brain. This then affects spatial orientation and movement, producing symptoms like dizziness which leads to falls.
- Hearing loss: balance disorders can contribute to the development of hearing loss. This reduces a person’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. Hearing loss can reduce spatial awareness which impacts safety. It affects one’s capacity to hear warning signs, hazards, and other signs of caution which can increase the risk of experiencing falls.
There are useful and necessary ways you can increase your safety and reduce your risk of experiencing falls.
Reduce Your Risk of Falls
There are effective strategies you can use to reduce your risk of experiencing falls. A few tips that you can implement include the following:
- Treat & Manage Balance Disorders: this will likely involve seeing a specialist like an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor. They will perform a few tests to see if an underlying cause can be identified. There are a few ways balance disorders are treated, treatment depends on the underlying cause and symptoms you are experiencing. It can include: medications to alleviate symptoms, vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT), and canalith repositioning. These treatments can alleviate symptoms like dizziness and nausea which leads to falls.
- Treat Hearing Loss: evaluating balance disorders often include testing your hearing health. Hearing tests involve a painless and invasive process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment. Hearing aids are the most common treatment, these electronic devices provide the ears and brain with ample hearing support. This increases one’s hearing capacity which also increases spatial awareness and safety.
- Use Assistive Devices: numerous devices can help with maintaining balance and steadiness. This includes handrails, grab bars, non-slip mats in the bathroom, raised toilet seats, etc.
- Remove Hazards: assess your living space and check for any potential hazards and remove them. This includes removing cords from walkways, repairing any loose floorboards or carpeting, any slippery items, etc.