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Have you or someone you know ever experienced a fall or sudden loss of balance, or been dizzy with no apparent cause? If you have, you are not alone. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 33-50% of people over age 65 fall each year; many repeatedly. Dizziness is also one of the leading complaints heard by physicians from their elderly patients and it is reported that 35% of adults over the age of 40 have experienced some form of dizziness. Does that mean falling and dizziness are a normal part of the aging process? No! In fact, medical research has shown that falls are not a normal part of aging and can be prevented and treated to a significant degree.

The key to fall prevention is for you and your physician to understand how the body controls balance and to know when and where to seek assistance for fall prevention and care. Balance involves a complex interaction between the brain and sensory information from the eyes, ears, ankles, feet and muscle systems of the body. When these systems work together effectively, the brain can easily maintain the body’s balance. However, as we age, changes occur, such as loss of hearing and/or vision, less sensation in our feet and joints, and muscle weakness. In short, we experience an overall weakening of our senses. Individually, none of these factors may put a person at risk for falling, but in combination they can. For example, someone with poor night vision may be able to walk through his or her home in the dark without difficulty. But if that same person develops an ear or sinus infection, which can cause dizziness, they are at risk for falling.

Because balance problems limit safe mobility, they can severely limit independence and daily life function as well as leisure pursuits. Difficulties with walking on uneven surfaces (stairs, carpeting, lawns, etc.), in busy visual environments (i.e. shopping), or at night can cause a person to limit their participation in activities to avoid embarrassment or risk of falling. Whether the imbalance is mild or severe, there are now solutions to the problem.

Element Physical Therapy, Orthopedic and Balance Clinic specializes in balance and dizziness problems and can help address the issue of why one person’s balance is different than another’s – even when they have the same or no medical problems. Element Physical Therapy is able to provide this specialized care for balance and dizziness because they have the only state-of-the-art equipment in Western Montana to help identify the specific causes of your balance and/or dizziness problem. One piece of equipment, the NeuroCom SMART EquiTest®, is used to localize the source of your balance problem; and VNG (video nystagmography) goggles are used to help identify the source of dizziness.

There are resources available to help in this process of understanding your balance or dizziness problems, including the Vestibular Disorder Association (VEDA) www.vestibular.org, a national support group for people suffering from dizziness and imbalance. Another option is the website www.balanceandmobility.com which provides a wealth of information on balance and factors that may lead to a higher risk for falls. Although balance and dizziness problems can be a factor of aging, they do not have to be a “fact” of senior life. Ask your physician for information and seek out the solutions available to you.


Jennifer Feenstra is a PT at
Element Physical Therapy