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Visually Impaired and Balance Challenged, What's Next?

Remember a few years back when everybody was trying to predict how long you would live by having you stand on one foot and shut your eyes?

Those who toppled first were supposed to soon be goners! No, really, the April 30, 2014 Independent quoted a study by the Medical Research Council that had found being able to balance on my foot with your eyes closed is a predictor of longevity. I lie not.1

Balance

But enough of the parlor games - does anybody even call them parlors, anymore? I don’t know about you, but my balance stinks! I was the kid who would sit down on the fallen tree and shimmy across on my bum while all the other kids walked on it to cross the creek.

When we talk about balance, my yogini looks at me and giggles. I would be offended but she likes me and she is absolutely right... and that is with my eyes wide open!

Signals and senses

We get a lot of information about all sorts of things from vision. There is this thing called the vestibulo-ocular reflex that has the inner ear sending signals to the eyes. When the inner ear senses we have gone whoopsie and are looking at the world from a new angle, it sends a signal to the eyes to move in the opposite direction so to keep the image stable. 2

The relationship also works the other way. The visual system helps calibrate the vestibular system. It gives reference information.2

More balance challenges

All this is by way of saying this balance-challenged child is becoming even more of a balance-challenged old lady complement of my vision loss. And I am not the only one.

Research

A 2013 VisionAware article presented information about a then-new study that examined vision impairment, balance problems, and falls. The study published in JAMA Ophthalmology concluded that visually impaired people have a significantly greater risk of balance problems and falls. They suggested more be done in the way of fall-prevention strategies.3,4

Part of me wants to say “No...uh, poop”. She who has missed stairs and fallen over brown dogs on a brown carpet knows falls come with the territory when you are AMD. It is sort of a no-brainer. The question is not whether or not we fall but what to do about it.

Small changes make a big difference

Most of us know the basics. Make sure there is a lot of color contrast between things you don’t want to fall over and the background. For example, with a burgundy carpet, we should have bought white puppies! Make sure you have good, even lighting without pools of shadows. Remove throw rugs and other things that might take you for a ride. You know the drill.

Learning to balance

But what about balance? It turns out that VisionAware also has a post on developing balance. Theirs is a five-part program that involves developing awareness of your body in space, perfect posture, and strength. It starts with seated activities and then progresses. Some of the higher-level exercises involve sitting on a Swiss ball. 5

Silver Sneakers

Of course, there are other balance programs. I recently mentioned a Silver Sneakers video that features several, standing balance exercises.

You can get Silver Sneakers tai chi and yoga or join a class either in person or online. As much as I am one of the most balance-challenged people in my yoga classes, I shudder to think what I would be like without the constant practice. Just the consistent emphasis on alignment and posture helps to keep me some sort of vertical.

And what about standing on one foot with my eyes closed? Getting to ten seconds is a real challenge. How about the best two out of three!

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