A Question of Balance?

3 Women testing their balance

We were among a number of U3A members from Canterbury and District U3A who took part in a research project run the by the University of Kent investigating the possible relationship between balance and memory.

The University’s Psychology Department set a simple balance test on a WI fit board, both with eyes open and closed and standing on and off a foam pad. Movement to and fro and side to side was measured on this wobbleometer. The memory tests involved remembering the location of various shapes on an I-Pad, each test becoming progressively more difficult.

This month (June) we were invited to participate in a workshop and feedback session to learn about the findings from this research.

Firstly, we were given a talk by two physiotherapists who specialise in Vestibular Rehabilitation. They gave us a brief description of how the vestibular (balance) system works and explained how, as we age, this can deteriorate. They were, however, encouraging as to how balance and associated problems can be addressed and our vestibular systems reprogrammed.

They then demonstrated how to do this through a series of simple balance exercises, such as heel raises, standing on one leg, walking heel to toe along a straight line, and balancing with feet increasingly close together. These can be progressed as improvement is gained. These exercises should improve balance and reduce falls. They also demonstrated an exercise involving head movement while focusing on a fixed point. If this point moves, blurs or doubles during the movement repeating the exercise on a regular basis can improve the ability to move around in crowded situations.

Secondly, Dr Laura Smith, lecturer in Cognitive Psychology, gave us feedback on the research. She explained how the vestibular system is linked to many areas of the brain which may explain possible effects on memory. It was most encouraging to learn that as a cohort the U3A members fared better in the memory tests than the patient group treated by the physiotherapists. This group, though much younger, had problems with their vestibular system, causing problems of balance and dizziness.

Although this is a small sample, the findings support the possibility of a link between balance and memory and justify further research. We really enjoyed learning more about the vestibular system and the chance to try some of the exercises. But above all, having taken part in the research, we all greatly appreciated learning about the results and further projects.