Afraid of falling?
Posted on 23 January 2014
Ongoing global research into the fear of falling (FOF) reveals it’s typical of most humans, but seems to get worse as we age for various reasons. Rialette Gous, an audiologist and speech language therapist at Mediclinic Meulmed, helps patients address this issue.
What is balance disorder?
Balance is a huge part of our daily lives, so those with balance disorder feel off kilter, as if they will fall at any moment and it affects how they function (so it determines what they can and can’t do) significantly. But it’s more than an inner-ear problem, vertigo or dizziness. Our sense of balance comes largely from two sets of information: sensory, which is sent via visual, somatosensory and vestibular cues; and motor, which are signals from ankles/thighs, trunk/neck and eyes/hands. The body uses all these fields to send signals related to balance to the brain, which then combines it all and then we react.
What can cause a functional balance disruption?
The causes are myriad and can be due to: traumatic brain injury, amputation, a fracture, vestibular issues like an inner-ear problem, and visual stabilisation problems. We’ve also seen how injuries and degenerative and autoimmune diseases can play a role in balance disruption, including concussion, spinal-cord neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Guillain-Barré syndrome, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Some medications can also contribute to loss of balance with long- and short-term use.
How is balance disorder diagnosed?
We use the Neurocom Balance Master machine to diagnose balance issues in patients. There are two Neurocom machines in South Africa, both in Gauteng. The Smart Equitest assesses a patient’s whole body to detect which systems linked to maintaining functional balance aren’t functioning optimally and causing the disruption. Once we establish the cause, we can then refer the patient to the relevant specialist/s for medical intervention. With treatment, some balance disruptions are cured, but often the aim is purely to improve a person’s basic everyday function and boost their quality of life. The computerised assessment means you can test and retest a patient over time, comparing results and tracking their improvement.
How was this testing system developed?
NASA started research into balance disorder in the USA in 1984 in response to astronauts returning from space with their functional balance disrupted due to spending long periods of time at zero gravity. This affected their inner ear, so a diagnostic tool had to be developed to return them to optimal everyday functioning.
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