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The two tests we're going to talk about today deal with overall neurological function by assessing how well you can move. Moving well is about your nervous system, so if you're balanced and graceful, that says good things about your nervous system. If you can run 12 miles but get low scores in these tests, your outlook might not be so bright. The tests also assess mobility, something that declines naturally as we age, but which is strongly associated with surviving falls and other injuries as well as with continued quality of life into old age.
The first test we'll discuss is also the simplest. All you'll need is a patch of floor to stand on.
The Tabara Test
This is done by standing on one leg. That's it. You can stand any way you like as long as one foot is off the floor and you're not leaning on anything. You can hold out your arms out for balance and keep your eyes open. It's not a test you can pass or fail, but it does tell you something about your neurological health.
Try to stand on one leg for 20 seconds each side.
What The Test Tells You
The Tabara test comes from the research of Japanese scientist Yasuharu Tabara, associate professor in the Center for Genomic Medicine at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine. Professor Tabara studied 1, 400 men and women whose average age was 67. They found that "individuals showing instability while standing on one leg, as well as problems walking, should receive increased attention, as this physical frailty may signal potential brain abnormalities and mental decline".
Specifically, the clearest link is with otherwise asymptomatic micro strokes that are associated with increased risk of dementia and major strokes. But poor balance is also linked to cognitive decline.
"Narrowing or blockages of tiny blood vessels deep within the brain can give rise to small strokes or tiny amounts of bleeding," says Dr Richard Libman, chief of vascular neurology at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Manhasset, New York.
These are thought to be the cause of both the mental decline and the poorer motor skills the team identified. Among those who had had one small stroke, 16 percent had trouble balancing; among those who had had two or more strokes, 33 percent had trouble balancing for 20 seconds. Thirty percent of those with evidence of more than two small bleeds had trouble balancing, and so did 15 percent of those who had suffered one small bleed.
Looked at from the other direction, those figures aren't all that high. If you struggle with the Tabara test, don't worry: it doesn't necessarily mean that you're in danger or that you've had a stroke. Balance varies from person to person, but doing the test regularly is actually a pretty good way to prevent falls and improve balance — and we're still not sure whether improved balance can improve other health outcomes or not.