Yes, I know, we Oldies have rather taken to the wine. We keep getting the message that a glass of red a day keeps…..away etc.
But, no, it isnt the plonk, we just fall over, unexpectedly.
Strange things start to happen as you reach seventy plus. Things, like in the shower: the stupid shampoo gets your eyes, you shut them and the world wobbles!
Just a brief wobble, a bit like a low level earthquake, if you have ever felt one. You even wonder if you imagined it. Or was it the wine?
You didn’t imagine it, because it keeps happening. Next week you close your eyes and suddenly feel the need to put a hand on the wall. Wait a minute, this could be getting dodgy! But you don’t tell anyone do you? You feel silly and anyway, they will probably say cut down on the wine. They always do.
Then one night you stupidly get out of bed in the dark…..Whoops!
Not too good. Better forget the red and stick to Prosecco?
You see your GP. He changes your pills, tests for brain tumours, queries minor strokes or something. But nothing found..and it still happens.
So what is going on?
Obviously it is some kind of balance problem. But what has shampoo and eyes got to do with it? You don’t normally think of balance as connected with eyes do you? Well, most people don’t. But they are. Howeve, most of us do know that ears have something to do with it. I expect you remember the fun you had as a child spinning around til you were dizzy? Fell down of course, but did it again and again. Loved it! “My head’s still spinning” you said. And that was literally true. At least, your ears were.
Clever things, ears. They have fluid in little tubes which moves like a spirit level. And there are some rather sweet little stones on threads in there which act a bit like plumb lines. I watch ballerinas spin with absolute awe. Surely their poor old balance system can make neither head nor tail of it? How do they stay up! What they do is to keep their eyes open and fixed on a spot so that at least something is stable. Like to bet it is what you do too if you are prone to seasickness.
But you arent spinning are you? It must be something else.…
Yes, you have yet another another way of keeping balance. Your joints and muscles.
All of them, muscles, ligaments and joints have sensors. Pressure and stretch sensors, which fire off as you move. Very clever little things, thousands of them all telling your brain just where that particular bit of you is at that moment in time. They do it by varying their rate of firing …a bit like those beeping sensors in cars which tell you how near you have got to the gatepost. But so much more sophisticated.
They can tell exactly where you are in space and if you go off balance immediately the brain tells the muscles to get you right again. The whole thing is a fast acting feedback system.
Your brain is dependent on messages, from eyes, from ears, and from these amazing joint sensors. Between the them they create an unbelievably quick system for keeping your balance….until something goes wrong.
Is it dawning yet?
Back to the shower. You temporarily blocked out the eyes with shampoo. I dont suppose you started twirling. So the ears shouldn’t have been signalling a problem. But something isnt right? Yes! It is those extra sensitive joint and muscle receptors not doing their job properly. Wrong messages..The brain is having trouble.
Now why would that be?
Could it have anything to do with 70 yrs wear and tear on said joints? Of course!
I won’t ask you how you are cherishing your joints, but if you are under 60 and do a lot of jogging, jumping or just plain hours of standing, think about it! Those sweet little joint sensors will have had a rough time of it. Some will have died off and not been replaced, others start to malfunction. The messages they were supposed to send get a bit muddled…..the balance reflexes slow down and you wobble until the brain gets itself sorted.
Warning! Warning! System error. Eye info. cut!
Check Ears? Check Knees? Knee info. error!
The wobble starts. ………..And over you go.
Now for the good news.
It doesn’t have to be that bad. Joint sensors are living things, they can regrow to some extent, and they can be retrained to work properly. So can balance reflexes. That is if you make them. But if you discover they are failing on the job and do nothing you are pretty well guaranteed to be falling over at some point.
What to do?
Obviously keep the balancing system in good nick. And start early! MOT at the age of sixty!
Make this your daily routine:
Practice balancing. Make sure you can still stand on one leg and count to ten. If not do it until you can. And wobble a bit too so the system has to practice correcting. Make it a habit. Every time you are waiting for the toaster, the kettle, combing you hair, standing in a queue …anytime, all day. Just do it! I don’t care if it looks silly. Do it! You would look far sillier falling down.
Now make it even more challenging . Move on to doing it with your eyes closed. Stand near a chair back or rail for safety, but do it every day!
Tai chi and Yoga too are excellent for preserving and improving balance and good fun doing it in a group.
Dance! Forget the gym. Just dance. Every day. Put on your favourite album. Make those sense endings work for their living . Twirl, change rhythm, close your eyes to a dreamy waltz…..go Scottish dancing, try Salsa. Don’t stop. There is good evidence it works for memory too!
Table Tennis! Great for balance reactions. Good for social life Too. Form a ‘Wrinklies Table Tennis Groupmm’ in your area?
Enjoy the fun of being fit at eighty! Because, to my enormous surprise Eighty has turned out to be a great time of life!
If you realise you are already in trouble go to your GP. Ask about Falls Prevention Classes run by a Physio. The evidence is now very clear that these specialist classes can reduce the number of falls significantly. They are proven to be cost effective, so if they aren’t providing one yet, ask why and when?
We should all push until they do!