What Causes Balance Problems in Seniors?

balance issues in seniors

Everyone knows the feeling of losing their balance. One moment you’re upright and perfectly steady, and the next moment, you’re in the midst of that awful “oh no” feeling and afraid you’re going to hit the ground. It can happen so fast that you might not have any clue about what just happened. Unfortunately, for about 20% of elderly individuals, taking a tumble means severe problems, including a hip fracture or a traumatic brain injury, according to the CDC.

While it’s entirely possible to lose your balance quickly if you trip over something, you might also lose your balance for what appears to be no reason at all. That’s because problems with balance can be caused by some medications, some medical conditions, and balance disorders. They can start very suddenly – you can feel just fine when you sit down in your favorite chair, let’s say, but the moment you stand up, the whole world seems to tilt. Or you can be walking through your home, feeling safe and secure, and suddenly everything goes a little dark or you feel dizzy.

These are the moments medical alert devices were designed to handle. When balance problems strike, your risk of falls goes up significantly. Having a personal emergency response solution at your fingertips can provide the peace of mind you need. If you do suffer a fall (or any other type of emergency), you can get help right away.

What Causes Balance Problems?

Understanding what causes balance problems in seniors and the elderly is the first step in preventing them. The National Institute on Aging and WebMD offer information on what might cause the issues:

·         Medications. Some medications can lead to problems with fatigue, which in turn leads to balance issues. This is especially true with some pain medications that can make you drowsy. Sometimes certain medications can lead to feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and confused. This can happen even with some of the most common medications on the market. For instance, blood pressure medication can sometimes lead to dizziness when you stand up from a sitting position, a condition known as postural hypotension. This tends to be more common in those over the age of 50[1].

·         Chronic conditions. Some medical conditions can lead to balance problems. One of the most common is diabetes. If your blood sugar goes too high, you can suffer from confusion, which can lead to losing your balance. But if your blood sugar goes too low, you might have the same problems, with the addition of feeling shaky, dizzy, and lightheaded. The result is that you could be quite unsteady on your feet. Other medical conditions that can affect your balance include problems with your thyroid, heart, nerves, or blood vessels, as well as nerve damage in your feet from diabetes.

·         Inner ear problems. Your ears play an enormous part in keeping your balance. Those who have issues with their ears, no matter the age, can suffer from balance issues. One part of the inner ear is called the labyrinth, and it’s most responsible for balance. When it becomes inflamed or infected, you can suffer from vertigo. Vertigo is defined as “the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning,” according to NHS Inform.

·         Alcohol use. Even a single glass of wine can be enough to affect the way the inner ear works, and that can lead to balance issues.

·         Anemia. Low iron levels in the blood can mean a lack of red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen through your body. The lack of them can make you feel deeply fatigued and weak.

·         Changes in gait. As you get older, you might experience natural changes in gait. This can lead to feeling unsteady as you walk. This might also happen if you have suffered an injury, such as a hip fracture and replacement after a fall, and you are adjusting to walking again.

·         Migraines. Vestibular migraines can leave you feeling sensitive to motion. Keep in mind that some migraines cause no pain but can still have other symptoms, so it can be tough to spot the problem without the help of a specialist[2].

·         Motion sickness. Though most people associate motion sickness with nausea and vomiting, dizziness can be common as well. It can happen on boats, amusement park rides, planes, and in vehicles[3].

·         Problems with circulation. If your body isn’t pumping blood effectively, you don’t get as much oxygen to your brain, muscles, and organs as you actually need. You might also have abnormal heart rhythms, which can lead to dizziness and other problems.

·         Neurological conditions. Some conditions increasingly affect your balance, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

You might also experience dizziness, vertigo, and other neurological problems after an injury. If you fall down, for instance, you might feel confused about what happened. You might get dizzy when you try to stand up. If you’ve been injured in the fall, it might be hard to get up from the floor. And if you do, it might be tough to stay steady on your feet in the midst of the pain.

Suffering a head injury can lead to serious vertigo, vision problems, and more. If you fall and suffer a head injury, it’s imperative to get help as soon as you possibly can. Those precious minutes can mean the difference between quick treatment and fast recovery and a long road of rehabilitation. If you have an affordable medical alert pendant or wristband, pressing the button is the best way to get help to you immediately. In fact, if you have a medical alert device with fall detection, the device itself can sense a fall and automatically send an alert for help without you even having to press the button!

How Do I Know if It’s Serious?

Some individuals might experience an episode or two of dizziness or being unsteady on their feet. This might be common when a person starts a new medication and their body is adjusting to it, or when a medical condition is emerging that they have yet to discover or be treated for. A balance disorder can last for a short period of time in these cases. But for some, the symptoms start up and continue for a long period of time. Some of these symptoms include[4]:

·         Dizziness or vertigo

·         The feeling that a fall is imminent

·         Falling for no apparent reason

·         Staggering or having trouble staying upright

·         Walking with a strange gait

·         Feeling lightheaded or faint

·         Feeling as though you are floating

·         Blurred vision

·         Disorientation and confusion

·         Nausea and vomiting

·         Diarrhea

·         Changes in heart rate or blood pressure

It is also not unusual to feel fear, panic, or anxiety, especially if you’re afraid of falling down. You might also feel some fear if you have no idea what is causing the problem. The stress of that fear can eventually lead to fatigue and even depression. As these symptoms come and go, you might wonder when the next “episode” will strike and that can lead you to change the way you do things, such as walking around your home with a hand on the back of nearby furniture.

Any of these symptoms warrant the use of a medical alert pendant or watch. Having assistance right at your fingertips around the clock, no matter where you are, can give you the peace of mind you need to better deal with balance issues. Opt for Alert1’s medical alert system with fall detection for the most confidence and protection.

How Balance Disorders are Treated

Fortunately, some balance disorders are easy to treat. For example, a blood pressure medication that is causing regular episodes of dizziness might be replaced with a different drug that still lowers your blood pressure but doesn’t cause the dizziness side effect. An inner ear infection can often be treated with the right antibiotics and you can be feeling like your old self in a matter of days. If you find that drinking even a single serving of alcohol makes you unsteady, avoiding a drink can be enough to ease the problem.

But some balance disorders need more treatment. A physical therapist might help you learn to move your head or body in certain ways to mitigate balance problems. An ear, nose, and throat doctor, often known as an ENT, can examine your ear to determine if there are problems that could benefit from certain medications or treatments.

Lifestyle changes might help as well, such as eating less salt as a way to help alleviate problems with high blood pressure or standing up slowly from a sitting position. If your balance problems are severe or not easily treatable, it might be time for a cane or walker to help you get around without falling.

It’s important to remember that balance problems can lead to problems in other areas of your life as well. Be alert for that and talk with your doctor about it. For instance, you might not be safe behind the wheel of a car if you are dealing with severe vertigo, or you might be advised to avoid stairs if you get dizzy often.

In these cases, a medical alert wireless system like those available through Alert1 can also be a great help in keeping you safer and healthier.

When Balance Issues Need Emergency Care

Sometimes balance issues are severe enough that they can indicate something else going wrong in your body. If you are losing your balance and it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it’s time to get to the emergency department right away[5].

·         A sudden, debilitating headache

·         Feeling numb in your face, arms, or legs

·         Tightness or pain in your chest

·         Rapid or irregular heartbeat

·         Vomiting that becomes severe

·         Losing your hearing

·         Double vision

·         Confusion

·         Fainting

·         Shortness of breath

·         Sudden changes in your speech

·         Seizures

If you are ever concerned about balance problems, get in touch with your doctor. And for round the clock protection that summons emergency help at the press of a button, opt for an affordable medical alert emergency button alarm with fall detection for seniors.