The week of Sept. 16-22 is Balance Awareness Week, a great time to call attention to the importance of good balance, especially as we age. Approximately one-third of those between 65 to 75 years of age report that dizziness and imbalance affect the quality of their lives. Often, dizziness or balance disorders can cause or contribute to falls.
Falls Are Number One Cause of Injuries & Deaths in Older Americans
In fact, every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The most common cause of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. This condition will affect approximately 50 percent of individuals over 70 years of age at least once in their lives. BPPV is caused by small calcium carbonate particles (otoconia), which are normally found in the inner ear. These particles can become displaced and migrate into one of the ear’s semicircular canals, where they do not belong. This condition is characterized by brief and intense episodes of vertigo that occur with a change in position. BPPV may be the result of the natural aging process, illness, a change in medication, or head trauma. Often, no known cause for BPPV can be identified. Other causes of dizziness and imbalance problems include: migraine, health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, or vestibular neuritis.
Tips to Prevent Falls
Even healthy older adults can experience the occasional trip or fall, sometimes with devastating results. Here are a few steps older adults can take to prevent falls:
- Make your home safer by getting rid of trip-and-fall hazards, such as throw rugs.
- Install extra lighting, such as night lights, to be sure you can easily see to walk to the bathroom or kitchen if the lights are turned off.
- Be extra careful when walking on uneven surfaces, such as in the yard, or when walking/hiking.
- Wear footwear appropriate for the surface. Properly fit, low-heeled walking or tennis shoes are best in most situations. If you are hiking, wear hiking boots to support your ankles. Flip-flops, loose sandals, or high heels may be fashionable, but don’t provide the support most people need, especially as we age.
- Have your eyes checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist once a year. Keep your eyeglass prescription up to date.
- Participate in evidence-based programs that can improve your balance and strengthen your legs. Contact your local Council on Aging for information about programs available in your community.
- Talk to your provider or pharmacist about medications that may make you more likely to fall. Some medications can interfere with your sense of balance.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about falls and fall prevention. Tell your provider if you’ve had a recent fall. Although one out of four older Americans falls each year, less than half tell their doctor, and according to a recent article in the AARP Magazine, this is one of the issues primary care providers worry most about because of the potential impact on their patients’ independence, lifestyle and health.
Proper Diagnosis of Dizziness Leads to Successful Treatment
Fortunately, 90 percent of the time, dizziness and balance disorders can be successfully managed and treated with proper diagnosis. Associated Audiologists has a dizziness and balance expert who uses state-of-the-art diagnostic testing to get to the source of the problem and recommend treatment.