Humpty Dumpty in Retirement (Revisited)

September 24, 2013

Three years ago this week I published a blog post on Humpty Dumpty in Retirement in which I discussed the reasons why the risk of falling increases as we get older and what we can do about it. The content is still timely if you would like to review it by clicking on the above link or on the September 2010 Archives link to the right.

I was reminded of that post because today’s (September 23, 2013) Wall Street Journal (requires a subscription) has an article by Shirley S. Wang entitled From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls, in which she reviews some of the most recent research on how we maintain our balance. Ms Wang cites new insights from a number of research facilities around the globe, all of them quite interesting.

What I found most interesting from the perspective of a senior citizen, was this summation of the body’s three main systems which keep us in balance:

“The visual system takes in information from the outside world and transmits it to the brain. The proprioceptive system, which incorporates sensory systems throughout the body, tells us how the body’s parts are oriented relative to each other. And the vestibular system, located in the inner ear, focuses primarily on how the head is moving.”

As it turns out the vestibular system tends to decline in efficacy as we get older and most of us make up for that decline by relying more heavily on our visual system. Our visual system is slower than the vestibular system so if we begin to go out of balance we have less reaction time to correct the situation before we land on the floor.

Another interesting insight is that when faced with rough terrain to negotiate, walking with shorter steps and a wider stance may be more effective than simply walking more slowly.

All this is important for seniors because The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that falls are the leading cause of death and injury to people over the age of 65. For more suggestions on how to avoid falls, please see the Humpty Dumpty post referenced above.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2013 R.K. Price