IT WAS JUST ABOUT 9:30 on a Sabbath morning. We teachers were engaged in greeting the Junior Sabbath School children who had already arrived for class. Then we heard it—the distressing sound of someone falling down the nearby flight of stairs. These stairs led from the main level of the church to the basement, where the children’s classrooms were located.
We rushed to the scene and found Nancy* crumpled at the bottom of the stairs. With her arms full of teaching supplies, she had caught her purse on the railing at the top of the stairs. This caused her loss of balance and subsequent fall. She was hurt and needed emergency transport to the hospital. While Nancy’s mishap this time was primarily due to her purse strap and the stair railing, falling is not an unusual occurrence for her.
Just what is balance all about, and why is it so difficult for some?
It can be amusing to watch small children learn to walk. With determination amid multiple attempts and falls, toddlers ultimately succeed in achieving balance. This allows them to not only walk but run, jump, climb, and achieve additional athletic skills.
Most of us take balance for granted, hardly giving a thought to walking across uneven, rocky surfaces or climbing a hill. Our bodies automatically adjust when we carry a bulky load or attempt to navigate slippery surfaces. The skill of walking upright on two feet
is achieved by an amazing, complex set of sensorimotor control systems. These systems include our eyes, which identify and evaluate our surroundings; our ears (the vestibular system), which help us identify spatial orientation and establish equilibrium; and our sense of touch through our feet. All of these communicate vital information to the brain and muscles. We are then able to navigate our surroundings with respect to gravity, direction, and speed needs, while adjusting our posture and stability accordingly.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
What happened to Nancy? Living a more sedentary lifestyle resulted in excess body weight and muscle weakness issues. With lack of strength in her arms, legs, and knees, she finds navigating stairs and uneven terrain difficult at best. Thus, when her purse strap caught on the stair railing, the jolt caused her support-compromised knees to buckle and contribute further to her fall. Although Nancy had bruises, cuts needing sutures, and a large hematoma to her forehead, she had no broken bones. Over time she healed well.
Our sense of balance can gradually become less fine-tuned as we age due to weight issues, weakening of muscles, and genetic issues, but the following factors can also contribute to balance problems:
1. Diabetes can cause instability through loss of sensation, nerve damage, inadequate blood flow, and vision impairment.
2. Inner ear problems such as infection, injury, obstruction, or a tumor can directly affect balance interpretation and equilibrium ability.
3. Migraine headache pain can contribute to motion sickness and eyes becoming sensitive to light, thus disrupting the body’s visual information transfer ability.
4. Foot pain caused by injury, bunions, corns, or hammertoes can disrupt steady, secure footing.
5. Low arterial blood pressure can result in dizziness, feelings of light-headedness, or even fainting when one sits or stands up too quickly.
6. Medications such as sedatives, antidepressants, antihistamines, or blood pressure stabilizers often have side effects including vision issues, dizziness, and disruptions to the inner ear’s balance mechanism.
7. Health issues such as arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis can adversely affect equilibrium.
CAN BALANCE BE IMPROVED?
Most people find benefit in balance-strengthening and improvement activities such as stretching exercises, walking, biking, climbing stairs, and participating in classes that focus on stability. Studies show that specific exercises can significantly benefit even sedentary individuals with improved strength and balance at any age or stage of ability.
Besides improving balance, you can decrease risk of falls by becoming alert to any potential hazards and safety issues for yourself and those of all ages around you. Steps to take could include:
• Remove clutter and electrical cords from walkways.
• Keep high-traffic areas clear of furniture or other obstacles.
• Either secure or remove rugs that easily slip underfoot.
• Immediately clean up spilled liquids, grease, or food.
• Place nightlights in bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways.
• Make sure stairways are well-lighted, are clear of clutter, and have safe railings.
• Use nonslip mats in bathtubs and showers.
• Have ready-to-use flashlights handy in case of power outages.
• Check walkways around the outside of the building for any tripping or fall hazards.
• Live a healthy lifestyle by maintaining good health habits, including routine care of your eyes, ears, and feet.
LIFE IS ALL ABOUT BALANCE
Besides being able to successfully navigate daily routines physically, we all need to devote adequate time and attention to balancing the needs and responsibilities of life itself. Give thought to the following quotation by Brian Dyson (former CEO of Coca-Cola and now president of Chatham International): “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
Start and end each day at the feet of the only true source of perception, direction, and balance. “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness . . . make Your way straight before my face” (Psalm 5:8, NKJV). “For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
*Name has been changed.