Close Your Eyes…

One of the first things the oncology nurse cautioned me about was closing my eyes in the shower – except when I was washing my face. How odd, I thought. I’d been closing my eyes in the shower the entire 12 years I’d had Chronic Kidney Disease. It was just so restful.

Being who I am and doing what I do, I asked her why I needed them open. She explained kindly, but as if I were lacking in intelligence. Remember, she and I had just met. She told me that closing your eyes can impede keeping your balance and at 72 (then), the last thing I wanted was to fall and possibly break a hip.

I had been putting myself at such risk for years without knowing it. Have you?

Let’s see if we can figure out the logic, even the science behind this. According to Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_balance:

“The sense of balance or equilibrioception is one of the physiological senses related to balance. It helps prevent humans and animals from falling over when standing or moving. Balance is the result of a number of body systems working together: the eyes (visual system), ears (vestibular system) and the body’s sense of where it is in space (proprioception) ideally need to be intact. The vestibular system, the region of the inner ear where three semicircular canals converge, works with the visual system to keep objects in focus when the head is moving. This is called the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR)…. The balance system works with the visual and skeletal systems (the muscles and joints and their sensors) to maintain orientation or balance. Visual signals sent to the brain about the body’s position in relation to its surroundings are processed by the brain and compared to information from the vestibular and skeletal systems.”

While Wikipedia is a fine place to start researching when you have no idea how to research a certain subject, you need to keep in mind that anyone can edit any entry at any time… whether or not they have the credentials or knowledge to do so.

That’s a lot of information all at once. Let’s slow this down and go bit by bit. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital at https://www.eyeandear.org.au/page/Patients/Patient_information/Balance_Disorders/How_does_the_balance_system_work/ informs us that,

“The vestibular system (inner ear balance mechanism) works with the visual system (eyes and the muscles and parts of the brain that work together to let us ‘see’) to stop objects blurring when the head moves. It also helps us maintain awareness of positioning when, for example, walking, running or riding in a vehicle. In addition, sensors in the skin, joints and muscles provide information to the brain on movement, the position of parts of the body in relation to each other, and the position of the body in relation to the environment. Using this feedback, the brain sends messages to instruct muscles to move and make the adjustments to body position that will maintain balance and coordination.”

I just counted five different parts to our ever present balancing act. Yet, I’d thought it only had to do with the inner ear and wondered why I needed to keep my eyes open in order to keep my balance. Oh my, and each of the five different parts to our ever present balancing act have several parts of their own.

Let’s take a close look at the visual system. I found this information on the blog page of the Shores of Lake Phalen (a senior living community) at https://www.theshoresoflakephalen.com/how-does-vision-affect-balance/:

“The Anatomy of the Eye

First, let’s address the anatomy of the eye. The human eye contains little nerve endings with light-sensitive cells called rods and cones. The rods and cones send signals to the brain through the optic nerve, helping the brain interpret what we see. Those images help us determine how close we are to certain objects – for example, a set of stairs. If your visual system were malfunctioning, you wouldn’t be able to tell how far you needed to raise your foot to reach the next step.”

Okay, fair enough. While this is not particularly a medical site, I like the plain English of the explanation. Now I understand why, when I open my eyes after having closed them to wash the shampoo out of my hair (Yay! I finally have hair again.), I’m not always in the position I’d thought I was.

And the vestibular system? I turned to Vestibular.org at https://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorder/human-balance-system for help with this one.

“Sensory information about motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation is provided by the vestibular apparatus, which in each ear includes the utricle, saccule, and three semicircular canals. The utricle and saccule detect gravity (information in a vertical orientation) and linear movement. The semicircular canals, which detect rotational movement, are located at right angles to each other and are filled with a fluid called endolymph. When the head rotates in the direction sensed by a particular canal, the endolymphatic fluid within it lags behind because of inertia, and exerts pressure against the canal’s sensory receptor. The receptor then sends impulses to the brain about movement from the specific canal that is stimulated. When the vestibular organs on both sides of the head are functioning properly, they send symmetrical impulses to the brain. (Impulses originating from the right side are consistent with impulses originating from the left side.)”

But this is the one we grew up thinking was responsible for balance. As a child, I had no idea that vision was involved. Did you? Hmmm, the joints are involved, too, as is the brain. We haven’t even touched proprioception and won’t be able to for lack of room, but do click through to the word in this sentence for more information about that. It will take you back to the Wikipedia entry.

Keep those eyes open in the shower as much as possible. That may be easier now that you understand how it will help your balance.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!