Good balance is often taken for granted. Good balance is often taken for granted. Most people don’t find it difficult to walk across a gravel driveway, transition from walking on a sidewalk to grass, or get out of bed in the middle of the night without stumbling. However, with impaired balance such activities can be extremely fatiguing and sometimes dangerous. Symptoms that accompany the unsteadiness can include dizziness, vertigo, hearing and vision problems, and difficulty with concentration and memory.
The human balance system involves a complex set of sensorimotor-control systems. Its interlacing feedback mechanisms can be disrupted by damage to one or more components through injury, disease, or the aging process. Impaired balance can be accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, vision problems, nausea, fatigue, and concentration difficulties.
The complexity of the human balance system creates challenges in diagnosing and treating the underlying cause of imbalance. The crucial integration of information obtained through the vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems means that disorders affecting an individual system can markedly disrupt a person’s normal sense of balance. Vestibular dysfunction as a cause of imbalance offers a particularly intricate challenge because of the vestibular system’s interaction with cognitive functioning,2 and the degree of influence it has on the control of eye movements and posture.
Authors: the Vestibular Disorders Association, with contributions by Mary Ann Watson, MA, and F. Owen Black, MD, FACS, and Matthew Crowson, MD