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Posted: November 07, 2008

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Why Does Dad Have Trouble Keeping His Balance?

Q. I’m not sure what’s going on, but once in a while, my dad loses his balance and I either have to catch him or he falls. Is this just an aging thing or what?

A. About one in 10 people over age 65 experience difficulty with balance. More than 40% of Americans will go to a doctor complaining of dizziness. Getting older is only part of the problem; inner-ear disturbances are the primary cause.

Losing balance when you’re older is serious stuff. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, each year, more than a third of people over 65 years suffer a fall. Falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among older adults. And, even if the fall doesn’t kill you, you could fracture a hip and then a whole bunch of problems can cascade over you – such as limitations on activities, isolation, loss of independence, depression.

Not all balance problems have the same cause. Here are several major ones:

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). That’s quite a mouthful of a name, but with BPPV, which is one of the most common causes of balance problems, you get vertigo when you change the position of your head. You may also experience BPPV when you roll over, get out of bed, or when you look on a high shelf. BPPV is more likely in people over 60.

Labyrinthitis, which is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear. The labyrinth is the organ in your inner ear that enables you to maintain balance.

Ménière's disease, which also can give you intermittent hearing loss, a ringing or roaring in the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Other causes may involve another part of the body, such as the brain or the heart. Aging, infections, head injury, certain medicines, or problems with blood circulation may also cause problems with balance.

Blood-pressure medications and some antibiotics can cause balance problems. If you are taking any drugs in these categories and feel off-balance, it’s worth discussing with your doctor.

Some people may have a balance problem and don’t know it. Balance disorders can be difficult to diagnose because patients sometimes can’t describe their symptoms well.

Balance disorders can be signs of other health problems, so it’s important to have them checked out.

If your elderly loved one can answer any of the following positively, discuss the symptom with their doctor:

  • Do I feel: Unsteady? Disoriented? As if the room is spinning? As if I'm moving when I'm still? As if I'm falling? As if I might faint?
  • Also, do you ever lose your balance and fall? Or, do you experience blurred vision?

Persistent balance problems are not something you should pass off as a harmless part of the aging process. They should always be examined carefully.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2008 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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