Walking and Balance Issues

 A lot of times, as people age, they often have more problems with balance than they did when they were younger. This even happens to healthy, older adults as well, so it’s not necessarily that unusual. For example, balance can be impacted by taking a lot of medications or dealing with chronic conditions that have the potential to mess up balance.

There are a lot of things that may contribute to balance issues in seniors. Things like:

  • Inner ear problems, such as vertigo
  • Eye problems (like cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration)
  • Numbness in feet or legs (neuropathy)
  • Arthritis
  • Heart or blood circulation problems
  • Long-term diseases of the nervous system (like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and others)

Inner ear issues, like vertigo can be a common cause of balance issues in older adults, as we just said above. Let’s take a little closer look at vertigo in particular. To begin, someone who suffers from vertigo probably feels like their body or everything around them is spinning. Someone who feels this way most likely has a problem with the labyrinth of their inner ear. The most common types of inner ear disorders that produce vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Labyrinthitis or acute vestibular neuritis
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Migrainous vertigo
  • Acoustic neuroma

Now, let’s take a look at these conditions a bit more closely.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

At times, the calcium crystals in the inner ear can break loose—either due to an ear infection, bump on the head, ear surgery, or simply aging. These can then travel into one of the semicircular canals, and when you move your head, they can shift position. When this happens, incorrect messages might be sent to your brain regarding head position.

BPPV can come on suddenly and powerfully, and it is the most common type of vertigo in older individuals. Anything from moving, standing up, turning in bed or slightly changing head position can make it worse. Intense symptoms are sporadic, and normally last less than a minute. However, they often reappear lots of times over the course of several days. Along with the vertigo, you could potentially also experience:

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Unsteadiness and loss of balance
  • Blurred vision
  • Rapid side-to-side eye movements that are involuntary
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Migraine 

Labyrinthitis (acute vestibular neuritis)

Inflammation and swelling of the inner ear—called labyrinthitis—can cause powerful, constant vertigo that can begin suddenly and last for days. The main cause of it lies in upper respiratory infections as well as other viral infections. Your risk for this condition can also be raised by stress, fatigue, allergies, smoking, or alcohol use. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, or hearing loss. Please note that it usually clears up after a few days on its own, but you might have to remain in bed until symptoms vanish.

Meniere’s disease

This is much less common than BPPV or labyrinthitis, Meniere’s disease may appear at any age, though normally it appears in adults who are in their 40s or 50s. It’s a long term condition that is caused by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, which can be caused by viral infections, allergies, or a number of other factors.

Those with Meniere’s disease may experience the following symptoms:

  • Sudden feelings of vertigo lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
  • Hearing loss that comes and goes, but eventually leads to some permanent deafness.
  • Buzzing, ringing, whistling or roaring sound in the ear (tinnitus)
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear

Vestibular Migraine

Those who get migraine headaches can also potentially experience vertigo and other types of dizziness during the migraine or between migraine headaches.

Acoustic Neuroma

A non-cancerous (benign) growth on the never that connects the inner ear to the brain. Symptoms can include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus in one ear.

Although these are not all the causes of vertigo or balance issues, they are some of the more common. It is very important to talk to your doctor if you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms so that you or they can get treated and back to a normal life as soon as possible.