Current statistics show that approximately 13 million Americans over the age of 65 suffer from some type of dizziness or balance problems that significantly interfere with their lives.  Consider that half of all falls among the elderly are the result of untreated or mistreated vestibular problems, (vertigo).  Currently, falls are the leading cause of injury death in persons over 65.  In the over 75 age group, 75% of visits to the emergency room are for injuries associated with falls.  This is by no means a problem only affecting the elderly, as the number one cause of non-fatal injuries, in all age groups, is from falls.  Many falls are unpreventable, such as falling off of a ladder when a stair breaks.  But most are preventable, coming from poor balance associated with neglect of these systems over the course of our life.  Balance is essentially a sense, derived from the integration of vision, the vestibular labyrinth, (inner ear), and the proprioception, (sensation) perceived from the feet.  Any compromise of any one of these systems lends itself to decreased balance sense and thus increased risk of fall.  Quite commonly, humans develop an over reliance on the visual system, allowing a sort of semi-neglect of the other systems.  When this occurs, fall risk increases when one is in the dark, or on soft or uneven ground, or by example, stepping from a solid surface like a sidewalk to a soft surface like wet turf.  Attempting this maneuver after dusk complicates balance greatly in those with a strong visual reliance, thus increasing risk of fall further.  As a typical scenario, one leaves a restaurant after dinner and a few drinks.  On leaving the restaurant, it is dark and raining.  When stepping from the walkway to the lower parking lot, or onto soft wet turf, the proprioceptive system from the feet is relied upon heavily to maintain one’s balance.  If one is strongly visually reliant, this system may fail, and the individual will fall.  Compounding this are disorders such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and particularly diabetes.  In our office, all patients are checked initially, and at regular intervals for balance and risk of fall, using a computerized posturography system, which is extremely accurate at predicting falls associated with poor stability.  Testing takes less than a minute, and as such, we offer this fall risk screening free of charge as a community service. We also offer free informational booklets on vertigo, dizziness and dystonia.  You may request one by calling toll free, (24 hr. recorded message only): 1 888 685-8386 to receive a vertigo/dizziness booklet, 1 800 296-7504 to receive a dystonia booklet.  Lastly, use good sense in fall prevention.  Use nightlights in hallways, near stairs, between the bed and the bathroom, and anywhere else you may be walking at night.  Consider that you may need to walk anywhere in your home in the event of a fire, as such, nightlights illuminating all areas would be appropriate.

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