What is the Vestibular System? How does that relate to Balance? And what happens to it with age?
By Leah White B.Kin., M.P.T., C.A.F.C.I.
Q: What is the vestibular system? How does that relate to balance? And what happens to it with age?
A: The vestibular system comprises our peripheral vestibular apparatus and our central nervous system. The peripheral vestibular apparatus includes the inner ear and the associated nerve (the vestibulocochlear nerve) that connects it to the brain. The inner ear organ provides information about acceleration (e.g., taking off in an airplane) and rotational speed (e.g., bending, rolling over, looking up at the sky) of our body in space. The central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) takes this information and combines it with signals from various sensory organs in our body including our eyes, and our muscle and joint receptors, particularly in our feet and neck, to create stable balance and vision. In short, the three most important components of balance are our visual system (eyes), our vestibular system, and our proprioceptive system (joints and muscles). Problems with balance can produce symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, nausea, blurred vision, and unstable gait, among others.
As we age, structures degenerate in all aspects of our body at varying rates. We can also succumb to various disease processes that cause decreased function in the affected organ. Changes in muscle and joint flexibility can affect the ability of the receptors to send appropriate signals to the brain about joint position in space and also limit our ability to respond to those changes and maintain our balance. For example, the majority of people will begin to experience decreased range of motion and strength in the ankle joint as they age. This lack of mobility limits the body’s ability to accommodate to perturbations in our balance and makes us prone the falling.
Disease processes like glaucoma or macular degeneration can impact the visual input that our brain relies on to determine our body position relative to the horizon. As a result, we are forced to rely on the other two major components of balance listed above; our inner ear and our joint receptors. This may require us to use a gait aid like a cane for extra tactile feedback with the ground which creates more proprioceptive input for our balance system to rely on. Or, we may walk slower, take shorter steps and not lift our feet as high which can again make us prone to falling, especially if we have to rush unexpectedly to the washroom or to answer the phone or doorbell.
Alternatively, tiny particles can become dislodged in the inner ear and cause our peripheral vestibular apparatus to lose its ability to determine which way is up and makes us feel as though the world is spinning. This dizziness can be nauseating and debilitating or it can be a mild annoyance. If you believe you may be experiencing any of the above, or simply believe you have poor balance, contact a physical therapist in your area that has specific training in vestibular and balance dysfunction. They can help determine why you may be dizziness and help devise a treatment plan to assist with your problem.
The 2020 Community Police and Fire Academy will be running between February 12 to April 15, 2020. The 2.5 hour sessions will be held every Wednesday morning between 9:30 am and noon in the Community Room of the Saskatoon Police Service (76 25th Street East) or the Community Room of Fire Station No. 3 (2613 Clarence Avenue South). Enrollment is limited to 20 participants and is free to attend.
Application forms are available online at or at the Saskatoon Council on Aging (SCOA) office (2020 College Drive). The application deadline is January 15, 2020.
by Susan Tupper, PT, PhD, Strategy Consultant, Pain Quality Improvement, Saskatchewan Health Authority
The idea of being transported to another reality, where you can see, hear, and touch a virtual world as if it were real has been the topic of science fiction since the short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles was penned by Stanley Weinbaum in 1935. Since the mid-1960s, the technology of interactive videos has grown to include flight simulators, video games, exposure treatment for phobias, medical education, and pain management. You may be wondering how virtual reality can affect pain. What can a video do to change arthritis or a disc bulge? The answer to that question lies in knowing how pain works.
Most people think that pain and tissue damage, such as arthritis, are perfectly intertwined. More tissue damage will lead to more pain and vice versa. Fortunately, it’s not that simple. Information about danger or damage to our tissues travels along specialized nerves to the spinal cord and eventually to approximately 20 different areas of the brain that work together to create the experience of pain. We’ve learned a lot about pain over the past 40 years and now know that the signals coming from the tissues are modified at the spinal cord and brain to either increase the signal or completely block it. This is very useful to help us respond appropriately to our environment. For example, if you’re running down the road and sprain your ankle, it’s important to be able to feel pain so you can take care of your ankle until it feels better. However, if there’s a truck speeding toward you, it’s more important to NOT feel pain and get off the road. Once you’re safely out of harm’s way, the ankle pain will slowly appear. Though the tissue signals play a role, the brain determines whether or not we feel pain. The good news is that we can manipulate the brain to change pain. This is where virtual reality comes in.
Our research team is exploring how virtual reality can be used to help people with dementia manage pain. We also want to use virtual reality to train family care providers to recognize pain and better manage pain in themselves and their loved ones.
We are currently recruiting family caregivers for 30-60 minute interviews. We are particularly interested in hearing from male caregivers, those living in rural communities, or those of non-European heritage. The interview can be held on the phone or in a location that’s convenient to you. For more information on how to participate, please contact Dr. Susan Tupper (study lead investigator) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 306-655-1041, or Kirstie Gibson (research assistant) at email@example.com or 306-202-6330.
Our team includes researchers from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing, St. Thomas More College Department of Psychology, and Luxsonic Technologies Inc.. We received funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) and the Center for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) and the Eunice Bilokreli Research Fund through the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine to support this work. We appreciate the support that SCOA and the Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan have provided as study collaborators.
The Saskatoon Council on Aging’s Bus Buddy Program is a safe and personal introduction to the Saskatoon Transit system through the assistance of trained and qualified Bus Buddy volunteers. Volunteers help participants gain the tools and confidence to travel safely in and around the city of Saskatoon.
How it Works
Older adult volunteers will be screened and matched with older adults who want to learn how to ride city buses with ease. The Bus Buddy Volunteers will make arrangements to accompany the participant on several bus trips until she/he is comfortable taking the bus alone.
Bus Buddy participants will learn how:
To use the City Transit system
To plan bus trips anywhere you need to go
To read transit routes
To locate bus stops
NEW: To use Saskatoon Transit’s mobile app! Download from the App Store or Google Play. Plan your trip in real time using your mobile device. Fast, accurate and convenient!
Click the Saskatoon Transit logo to watch the video for more about the mobile app!
How to Get Involved
If you would like to volunteer or learn how to use the bus call the Council on Aging at 306-652-2255 for more information
We want to hear from you! No Patient Left Behind: Electronic Health Record Use in Saskatchewan
Have you ever wanted to see or even access information in your medical record? Are you interested in learning more about what an Electronic Health Record (EHR) is? Or how it works?
Your EHR is a secure and private lifetime record that gives you access to much of your health data through electronic devices (e.g.: computer, tablet or phone). In Canada, the EHR stores and provides information on your lab results, medication profiles, key clinical reports (e.g.: hospital discharge reports), diagnostic reports from x-rays or other similar tests, and your immunization history. This information can be seen by authorized health care providers and is becoming available for more and more patients to access across the country.
This technology offers many benefits for patient and health care professionals. For example, the EHR gives patients the ability to see test results and previous and current prescriptions. Access to this data can reduce test duplication and increase communication with doctors and nurses saving time for both parties.There are also potential challenges with EHR use, including technical difficulties, access to electronic devices and or internet connectivity and concerns about privacy and confidentially.
Dr. Tracie Risling from the College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan is partnering with SCOA on a new research project, No Patient Left Behind: EHR Use in Saskatchewan. This study is about supporting patients across the province to uptake and use their electronic health records. We want to hear from you! How would you want to learn about EHRs? What do think some of the challenges might be when it comes to using EHRs? What type of supports could be developed to support EHR users?
In the coming weeks, Dr. Tracie Risling and her team will be announcing dates for information sessions about EHR use in Saskatchewan and this research project. We are excited to start this research, working with SCOA and looking forward to meeting with those who are interested in sharing their thoughts about this technology and how best to use it.
The Saskatoon Council on Aging [SCOA] is pleased to collaborate with Dr. Susan Tupper on the research project “Pain Knowledge Needs of Family Caregivers and Persons with Dementia: Role of Virtual Reality as a Training Modality”. As a leading organization in the province dedicated to supporting positive aging through programs and services that enhance health, dignity, and independence for older adults, SCOA recognizes the importance of this research project for our community members.
Dr. Tupper and the Pain Dementia Virtual Reality Research Team have proposed to create an innovative training program on pain management for family caregivers and people with cognitive impairments related to dementia. Incorporating virtual reality videos into the training materials is an exciting new way to teach family members and people with dementia about pain. The training materials will be developed based on family member input, and their perspectives on the new virtual reality video will help shape the training program in ways that truly support older adults in Saskatchewan. This education will help our families to better cope with pain and prevent suffering and the many negative consequences of living with pain.