Monday, September 15, 2008

Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense

Have you noticed any changes in your equilibrium lately? Feeling a little less steady on your feet? If you're past your twenties, you might be experiencing a natural deterioration in your sense of balance. In his intriguing book, Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense, Scott McCredie explores the importance of the often ignored vestibular system, the rapid-fire sensory superhighway connecting the eyes, the inner ear and the proprioceptors - cells in muscles and joints that indicate our position in space. Inspired, in part, by a fall suffered by his aging father on a hiking trip, McCredie delves into balance's past, present and future and scours the research for a solution to the "epidemic" of falls among the elderly.

The author intersperses anatomy and physiology lessons with fascinating field trips - some, back in time, to the early 19th Century, when the mentally ill were treated by strapping them into spinning chairs to induce vomiting: some, to unusual places, such as the School of Circus Arts in San Francisco or an anti-gravity training flight for astronauts. Readers join Lord Nelson on his ship, battling not only the enemy but persistent sea-sickness as well. We are in the cockpit with John Kennedy Jr. on his final flight. We walk the high wire without a safety net, with Karl Wallenda as he supports his wife on his shoulders. And we wobble and sway along with
Robin Grindstaff, who suffered from severe vestibular disorder until she made the decision to sacrifice her hearing, in an effort to recover her balance.

If you've never thought much about balance, this book will give you a new-found respect for the "lost sense.". And if you haven't tried standing on one foot lately, you just might be surprised at how challenging it has become.

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