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What Causes Balance Issues and How Seniors Can Reduce Fall Risk

According to the CDC, millions of people aged 65 and older have experienced at least one fall, with more than one quarter of seniors falling every year. Of these, less than half inform their doctor. What’s more, one fall doubles the risk of a second, and the statistics on the risks and consequences of these falls are of little comfort.

Understanding the most common causes of balance problems and falls can help you better protect yourself. With a few precautions, you can address your own balance problems and prevent injuries.

Common causes of balance issues in seniors

  • Certain medications

Medications like sedatives, antidepressants and painkillers can all affect balance, as can certain over-the-counter drugs, such as allergy or cold medications.

  • Foot problems

Improper footwear alone can cause unsteadiness; however, it can also lead to foot pain, which aggravates balance issues.

  • Vision problems

Impaired sight can affect one’s ability to get around and stay stable. Blurred vision can also lead to vertigo and dizziness, hampering balance and coordination.

  • Nutrient deficiencies

Deficient vitamin D or iron levels can lead to balance problems, as can low blood sugar.

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV is an inner-ear disturbance that provokes sudden vertigo or dizziness while moving the head. Possible causes include ear infections, head injury and aging. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that BPPV is among the most common balance disorders. Anyone age 60 or older should stay alert for signs of BPPV, even during activities as simple as rolling over in bed.

  • Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease is another inner-ear disorder that causes balance issues and increases the risk of falling. Common symptoms include vertigo, ringing or a feeling of stuffiness in the ears, and sporadic hearing loss. Hearing loss itself is known to cause balance issues, compounding Ménière’s-induced imbalance.

Ménière’s disease is usually caused by fluid changes in the inner ear, but other possible causes include allergies, autoimmune disease, and genetics.

  • Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is an inflammatory inner-ear infection commonly associated with the flu; it can lead to vertigo, dizziness, hearing loss, and balance issues.

  • Certain chronic conditions

Long-term medical conditions impacting the nervous system like multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease can worsen balance, as can heart problems such as poor circulation and sudden changes in blood pressure, eye problems, arthritis, and certain medications chronic illnesses.

  • Shingles

Shingles is a viral skin condition whose. possible symptoms include vertigo, ear pain, and hearing loss. Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a complication of shingles, can also paralyze facial nerves near the ear.

What seniors can do to reduce fall risk at home

Treatment for balance problems greatly depends on the source of the issue. Affected seniors or their caregiver should consult a geriatrician.

Regardless of the cause, seniors or their caregiver can take several measures to prevent falls and related injuries:

  • Improve the lighting in the senior’s home or room.
  • Move their bedroom to the ground floor if it isn’t already.
  • Check their home for hazards like uneven or broken steps, clutter, or throw rugs.
  • Keep their doctor up to date on their condition and progress with their balance.

Lastly, you can periodically check a senior’s balance using the 10-second balance test, i.e., having them stand on one foot for 10 seconds. Their inability to do so might indicate not only balance issues but also signs of more serious conditions.

For most seniors, however, balance-enhancing and strength training activities such as chair yoga and tai chi are excellent ways of improving coordination and reducing fall risk. These exercises can be done with little to no equipment, in the comfort of your home.

“The body is very adaptive. And if one pathway doesn’t work to maintain your balance, by training other pathways in the body and the brain you can overcome some disabilities,” says Dr. Lewis Lipsitz, professor of medicine at Harvard University. With only a few minutes of light training every day, seniors can live longer, healthier lives.

Springpoint knows what it means to live well. We’ve made it our mission to make a difference in the lives of residents, their families, and the communities we serve. You’ll feel that difference in each of our vibrant senior care and Life Plan Communities in New Jersey and Delaware.

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