Maintaining Good Health Can Be a Balancing Act for Older Adults
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, one in three adults age 65 or older falls. And the consequences of falling also increase as we age – seniors are much more likely than their younger counterparts to experience a hip fracture or traumatic brain injury after a fall. The CDC reports that one out of five falls in people over the age of 65 causes a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury.
While not all falls are caused by balance disorders, many are. As with many health issues, older Americans are at greater risk for balance problems. This is due to the natural aging process, as well as the fact that many of the issues that can cause a balance issue – arthritis, taking medications, ear infections – are most common among seniors.
Some of the more common balance disorders include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV is one of the common balance disorders and is marked by an acute feeling of dizziness that occurs by a sudden change in the position of the head. It’s caused when tiny calcium crystals become loose and disrupt the sensors in the inner ear. Vertigo was made famous by Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock in the movie of the same name.
This is caused by an inner ear infection, often as part of respiratory infection such as the flu, and causes dizziness and a loss of balance.
This is a condition marked by vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ears. Its cause is unknown.
This condition occurs when fluid from the inner ear leaks into the middle ear and can cause dizziness and nausea. It can result from a head injury, sudden changes in air pressure, surgery or ongoing ear infections.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should schedule an appointment with an otolaryngologist, often called an ENT (ear/nose/throat) doctor. He or she can help make a diagnosis and provide treatment. They can also determine if your condition may be a result of another underlying medical condition or medication.
Restoring balance into your life
Treatments range from the relatively simple (if you’re diagnosed with BPPV, your doctor may perform a series of movements to dislodge the crystals) to the more complex, which may include changes in diet, exercise or even surgery.
Not all balance disorders are curable, but symptoms can be mitigated. There are a number of exercises that can help people improve their balance. Tai chi and yoga have helped many people improve their balance and flexibility and both are low-impact practices that can be adapted so that nearly everyone can participate. There are also several exercises you can do at home. To learn more about ways to help improve balance condition symptoms, you may want to consider making an appointment with a vestibular rehabilitation therapist. These professionals are trained in developing an exercise program to help the body compensate for inner ear disorders.