Recently a group of researchers in Japan found that seemingly healthy middle-aged adults who could not stand on one foot for more that 20 seconds could be experiencing underlying cerebral small vessel disease (cSMD). The group studied showed higher rates in cognitive decline over time. This is a condition that can lead to both stroke and cognitive impairment.
The researchers tested their subjects by measuring their single leg stance time, conducting brain MRI scans, and using a posturograph to measure their center of gravity. These results were analyzed and showed that the individuals that demonstrated brain vascular disease were likely to be unable to stand on one limb greater than 20 seconds. They report that “individuals showing postural inability should subsequently receive increased attention because instability may signal potential brain abnormalities and cognitive decline”. This means that individuals with poor balance should check in with their physicians to rule out brain issues.
You can test yourself by standing on leg and measuring your ability to maintain this position. Balance is a skill that can be trained simply by practicing this position at your kitchen counter. If after 3-4 weeks of practicing you do not notice improvement in your balance, it is worth mentioning to your physician. Knowing your family history of cardiovascular and stroke history is also very important. If you have immediate family members who have experienced stroke and your balance is poor despite maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, mention this to your doctor.
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Tabara, Y, Okada Y, Ohara M. et al. Association of postural instability with asymptomatic cerebrovascular damage and cognitive decline. Stroke. Published online before print December 18, 2014.