As people grow older, they may have difficulty with their balance. Nearly 8 million American adults report having a chronic problem with balance, and an additional 2.4 million American adults report having a chronic problem with dizziness alone.
Having good balance means being able to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or remaining still. An intact sense of balance helps you
• walk without staggering
• get up from a chair without falling
• climb stairs without tripping
Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities.
Many people experience problems with their sense of balance as they get older. Disturbances of the inner ear are the main cause. People feel unsteady, or as if they were moving, spinning, or floating.
Vertigo, the feeling that you or the things around you are spinning, is also a common symptom.
Balance disorders are one reason older people fall. Falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fracture, can have a serious impact on an older person’s life. If you fall, it could limit your activities or make it impossible to live independently. Many people often become more isolated after a fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults ages 65 years and older fall each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths.
There are many types of balance disorders. One of the most common is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. With BPPV, you experience a brief, intense feeling of vertigo that occurs when you change the position of your head.
You may also experience BPPV when rolling over to the left or right, upon getting out of bed in the morning, or when looking up for an object on a high or low shelf. BPPV is more likely to occur in adults ages 60 and older, but can also occur in younger people.
In BPPV, small calcium stones in the inner ear become displaced, causing a person to feel dizzy. The reason they become displaced is not known, although it may be caused by an inner ear infection, head injury, or aging.
Another type of balance disorder is labyrinthitis. This is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear causing dizziness and loss of balance. The labyrinth is the organ in your inner ear that helps you maintain your balance.
Ménière’s disease is a balance disorder that causes a person to experience
• hearing loss that comes and goes
• tinnitus, which is a ringing or roaring in the ears
• a feeling of fullness in the ear.
It affects adults of any age. The cause is unknown.
There are many ways to treat balance disorders. Treatments will vary depending on the cause. See your doctor if you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, or other problems with your balance.