Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Newcastle University's online course, Ageing Well: Why Older People Fall. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds As we have seen, our skeleton is engineered to help keep us balanced on our feet. But our organs and senses also play a crucial role in maintaining balance.

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 seconds Our brain acts as the control centre; receiving signals, processing information, and fine tuning our movements in order to prevent falls. We rely on continuous information from three principal senses. Firstly, our vision informs the brain where we are in relation to other objects, and whether our surroundings are moving or stationary. Next, our brain receives information from our inner ear. Here, we have three fluid filled canals, each positioned so that movements in any direction can be detected. These semicircular canals also detect speed and acceleration of movement Finally, our brain receives information from our skin, muscles, and joints. Nerves detect pressure and stretch so that we know where our limbs are and what they are doing.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds These signals are particularly important when coming from our feet. Once the signals have arrived in our brain, it is able to integrate them and generate a response, which will rapidly result in a movement of our eyes or body that will prevent us from losing balance. Occasionally, one of these senses may fail, and this can result in a feeling of unsteadiness, which specialists call disequilibrium. You may have experienced this before when standing still and something next to you, like a bus or train, pulls away. Your eyes mistakenly judge you to be moving backwards. But your inner ear and feet are saying that you’re still, resulting in conflicting messages and a feeling of unsteadiness.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 seconds Some people may have more long-standing problems with any one of these senses, resulting in chronic unsteadiness. But the good news is that our brain is constantly learning and adjusting to repeated movements. And, with specialist treatments and rehabilitation, our brain can learn to compensate by focusing on our remaining functional senses. A good example of the brain’s ability to learn would be a dancer, acrobat, or gymnast, who with training is able to maintain balance in extreme positions, and overcome dizziness. We will learn more in week two about how we can keep our senses healthy, thereby keeping our balance healthy.

Using our organs and senses to combat gravity

In this second video about how our body is designed to stay upright, we will discover how important our senses are to maintain balance.

Maintaining balance is hugely important in preventing falls. But even if we have a problem with our balance, our brains can adjust and maintain our balance through re-training. Our ability to adapt is fascinating. Even in advanced years, if we have a problem with our balance, our brain can be encouraged to adapt and balance can be restored through physiotherapy.

Just how amazing our bodies and brains can be at learning balance can be seen in gymnasts, circus performers and dancers.

  • While watching the video, consider your own senses, do you think your brain is compensating for any problems with your senses?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Ageing Well: Why Older People Fall

Newcastle University

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: