Dizziness or loss of balance is the second most common complaint heard in doctors’ offices. Statistics from the National Institutes of Health indicate that dizziness will occur in 70 percent of the nation’s population at some point in their lives. Acute or chronic problems with equilibrium may indicate serious health risks and seriously increase risk of injury due to falls.
There Are Two Types of Balance Problems
Equilibrium disorders fall into two categories. The first category is dizziness, vertigo, or motion intolerance that may occur in acute or sharp attacks lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several hours. The second category is a persistent sense of imbalance, unsteadiness, or what some people refer to as a loss of sure-footedness.
The good news is diagnosis and treatment options for both of these types of balance problems have become more effective over the past 10 years. There is hope for many individuals who once thought there might be no relief.
Why Am I Losing My Balance?
Human equilibrium is a complex interaction that requires input from our inner ear, vision, and somatosensory perception (contact with the earth as perceived by our feet, muscles, and joints). All three signals must then be correctly received by our central nervous system. Then the cerebellum, which is the motor-control portion of the brain, must execute the correct movement of our musculoskeletal system so that we maintain our center of gravity. If any one or several components of this complicated system do not work properly, then a loss of sure-footedness or movement coordination can take place.
The natural aging process may affect any one or all of these senses, as well as the central nervous system’s ability to interpret and react to them quickly. It is very common to hear from someone who has fallen that they saw the curb or step but were not able to react fast enough or to keep their balance.
With proper diagnosis and therapeutic exercises, known as balance retraining, many older adults can return to a more active lifestyle.
Facts About Dizziness and Balance
- Vertigo, dizziness, or imbalance will affect 90 million Americans sometime during their lifetime.
- Each year, over 9 million people consult with their doctors over complaints of dizziness, the number-one malady for those over 70.
- Balance-related falls account for more than one-half of the accidental deaths in the elderly and cause more than 300,000 hip fractures per year in individuals over 65 years of age.
- Some forms of inner-ear disorders — such as Ménière’s disease, benign positional vertigo, perilymph fistula, and endolymphatic hydrops — have symptoms that are virtually indistinguishable to most people. Since imbalance and vertigo can affect a person’s ability to stand and walk, see clearly, read, watch television, make decisions, and think clearly, these conditions are often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis and clinical depression.
- Children with treatable vestibular disorders are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as learning disabled, dyslexic, or psychologically disturbed.
- Blows to the head and whiplash are frequent causes of dizziness.
- Ear infections, such as otitis media, can also lead to vestibular disorders.