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December 07, 2016

Balance Disorders in Older Adults: 3 Important Things to Know

Having good balance is a core element in effectively maintaining your independence. But if you’re having trouble with balance, daily activities can be more challenging.

A balance disorder, explains NIHSeniorHealth.gov, is a body-system disturbance that can make someone feel dizzy, as if spinning or unsteady. These balance disorders are often a cause of falls and related injuries. In 2008, the site shares, about 14.8 percent of American adults experienced a balance or dizziness issue over the past year. That’s 33.4 million people!

So, what’s causing these balance issues, and how can they be prevented or managed?

Potential Causes of Balance Disorders and Prevention Strategies

1. Talk with Your Doctor

Consumer Reports offers plenty of insight. The first is to talk to your doctor before you fall. If you’re feeling unsteady or are worried about falling, share your concerns with your doctor and get a checkup. Balance can be affected by inner ear problems, low blood pressure and anemia, as just three examples, as well as more significant conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Another cause of that unsteady feeling: arthritis, which limits your ability to move as fluidly. As these conditions are treated, your balance will often improve.

NIH Senior Health points out that some balance-related challenges can improve via diet and lifestyle changes. Ménière's disease is good example. By eating less salt and “steering clear of caffeine and alcohol, you can make symptoms such as vertigo less severe.”

If high blood pressure is contributing to your balance issues, reducing sodium is key for you, as is exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. If low blood pressure is the culprit, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Stand up slowly and don’t cross your legs when seated.

2. Prescription Drugs

Yet another cause: prescription medications, including those used to treat insomnia, high blood pressure and anxiety. And, if you take multiple medications, the interaction among them could cause unsteadiness. Don’t forget about over-the-counter medications that can cause dizziness, such as antihistamines.

NIH Senior Health flags these types of drugs as common culprits:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants)
  • Hypertensive (high blood pressure) drugs
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers
  • Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
  • Aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic)
  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilators
  • Certain analgesics (painkillers)
  • Certain chemotherapeutics (anti-cancer drugs)

If medications seem to be contributing to or causing your balance issues, ask your doctor if a change in medication can be helpful. If not, could the dosage be reduced or could you take the medication at a different time of day? Be especially mindful of how you move after you have taken a medication that can affect balance. Some drugs impact you only as long as you’re taking them, while others can have a permanent effect.

3. Vision Issues

Finally, how is your vision? It’s important to wear the right glasses or contact lenses so you can see as clearly as possible. If you get a new prescription, take extra care as you adjust. The same is true after cataract surgery.

This recent Kendal at Home blog post shares how to protect your vision as you age. This can also have a positive impact on your balance.

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