You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

​This Is One Of the Earliest Signs You’re Getting Old

Prevention logo Prevention 9/07/2017 Carina Storrs

© Provided by Rodale Inc. You can thank a group of tiny organs in your inner ear, called the vestibular system, for your sense of balance, motion, and spatial awareness. But you also might want to curse this system once you hit 40—the age when vestibular function begins to deteriorate, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology.

Researchers put healthy people between ages 18 and 80 through a series of tests to see how well they could perceive subtle movements, such as being tilted side-to-side or turned in a circle. Participants in their early 40s fared worse than younger people, and performance declined in step with advancing age over 40. Participants who did poorly at detecting movement were also more likely to fail a balance test.

The vestibular system, just like the rest of your body, is sensitive to the effects of ageing, says study author Daniel M. Merfeld, Ph.D., a professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. However, other aspects of vision and sensory function tend to hold strong until the 60s. “If one compares it to other sensory systems, it does seem a bit low, and that was a little bit of a surprise,” Merfeld says.

Nevertheless, John Jeka, Ph.D., professor and chair of kinesiology at Temple University, who was not involved in the study, doubts that middle-aged people with early vestibular ageing would notice these deficits in everyday life. However, you might if you’re doing some kind of high-performance sport.

Consider the career span of pro athletes. “They’re lucky to get into their late 30s, and very few pro athletes can still compete in their 40s,” says Jeka. “There are lots of factors that contribute to that—you lose muscle strength…but I would argue you’re also seeing a degradation of sensory processing.” Vestibular function is part of that.

By your 60s, vestibular dysfunction could become obvious in everyday life, Jeka says. For example, you might have to really concentrate to keep your balance when you walk across uneven surfaces such as grass or sand.

There’s no standard test to help you assess your vestibular function. However, a physical therapist can gauge it with some simple tests. In one, a patient shakes his head side to side while reading an eye chart. If his vision when shaking is much worse than his sight with a still head, a vestibular disorder could be the culprit, says Susan Whitney, DPT, Ph.D., co-director and professor in the physical therapy post-professional MS Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Regular exercise and balance-enhancing activities like yoga and tai chi can help you preserve your vestibular function, she says. Check out this beginner’s guide to yoga to get started.

More From Prevention

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon