Senior Health: Balance Problems


Have you ever felt dizzy, lightheaded, or as if the room were spinning around you? These can be very troublesome sensations. If the feeling happens often, it could be a sign of a balance problem. Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor.

It is estimated that 14.8 percent of American adults (33.4 million) have a balance or dizziness problem.

Why Good Balance is Important

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

  • bend over without falling.

The part of the inner ear responsible for balance is the vestibular system, often referred to as the labyrinth. To maintain your body's position, the labyrinth interacts with other systems in the body, such as the eyes, bones and joints.

Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities.

When People Have Problems with Balance

As they get older, many people experience problems with their sense of balance. They feel dizzy or unsteady, or as if they or their surroundings were in motion. Disturbances of the inner ear are a common cause.

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, roughly more than one-third of adults ages 65 years and older fall each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths.

BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo)

There are many types of balance disorders. One of the most common is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. In BPPV, you experience a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when you change the position of your head, such as when rolling over to the left or right, upon getting out of bed, or when looking for an object on a high or low shelf. BPPV is more likely to occur in adults aged 60 and older, but can also occur in younger people.

In BPPV, small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced and disrupt the inner ear balance sensors, causing dizziness. The reason they become displaced is not known; the cause may be an inner ear infection, head injury, or aging.


This is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear that causes dizziness and loss of balance. It is often associated with an upper respiratory infection such as the flu.

Ménière's Disease

Ménière's disease is a balance disorder that causes a person to experience:

  • vertigo

  • 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 vary depending on the cause. See your doctor if you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, or other problems with your balance.

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