A Balancing Act: The Struggle to Maintain Balance With PD
Now and then, especially as I’ve gotten older, my gait can be a bit unsteady. I’ve been known to drift a little to the left while walking.
As we age, our balance, steadiness, strength, and agility decrease, and our chances of falling increase. For people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), balance, walking, and gait are often major issues due to both motor and nonmotor symptoms, making them even more susceptible to falls and other injuries.
As Parkinson’s News Today points out, “One of the most debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of coordination and control in body movements, which in many cases leads to severe walking disabilities.”
The Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s notes that PD causes a loss of dopamine and the impairment of the basal ganglia, the part of the brain responsible for motor control. Therefore, individuals with PD may struggle with balance, delayed reaction time, speed of movements, and postural “righting reflexes,” which help someone regain balance when their body sways off its base of support. All of these issues increase the risk of falling.
Because other factors can cause balance issues, folks with PD need to be evaluated so that medical professionals can address their balance and gait problems in the way that works best for them.
My sister, Bev, who is currently diagnosed with stage 3 Parkinson’s, has obvious problems with walking and balance, though she does not have freezing or stiffness episodes. Unfortunately, her unsteady gait and balance problems have led to a number of falling episodes. Fortunately, she’s had no major injuries as a result.
To decrease the possibility of falling, and to increase her strength and abilities, Bev regularly attends a PD balance and exercise class in her community. She has also attended a fall prevention program sponsored by the National Council on Aging. The program is open to older adults and others considered at high risk for falls. Her neurologist also ordered physical therapy to improve her balance and strength.
The Cleveland Clinic has shared tips for preventing falls and maintaining balance that involve making changes in the home environment and employing certain habits while walking or standing. Some helpful tips include:
- Remove or anchor area rugs and other potential obstacles in your home.
- Use aids and assistive devices, such as grab bars and nonslip mats, in the bathroom.
- Choose the right shoes for you. Certain types of soles can make it easier to trip.
- Keep night lights in your bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.
- Ensure stairwells have railings that are easy to hold.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet or pendant in case a fall does occur.
- Make an effort to deliberately pick up your foot with each step, and get up slowly from chairs.
- Focus on one thing at a time. This helps with both thinking and walking because it limits distractions.
Bev is fortunate to have a medical alert device that was provided by her community at a low cost. She also uses a rollator, or a walker with swivel wheels on all four legs and hand brakes. It has a seat and a basket for carrying items.
Managing balance issues caused by PD can be challenging. However, Bev presses on despite PD’s effects. She says, “I will keep on doing what I can when I can to the best of my ability, and I will continue to follow suggestions that help me to improve my coordination.”
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.