By: Dr. Beth Templin
Dizziness is a very common complaint. As a matter of fact, 90 million Americans go to healthcare providers each year because of dizziness, vertigo or balance problems. It's the second most common complaint heard in doctor's offices and 70% of people will experience these symptoms at some point in their life.
In addition, many people believe that dizziness is a "normal" part of aging, so they do not seek out the help of a healthcare provider. They believe their dizziness is something they have to live with.
The problem with all of that is feeling dizzy can be very debilitating on one's quality of life, especially if it occurs on a regular basis.
Dizziness and vertigo can be caused by several factors, which can make it tricky to treat properly. The good news is that many causes of dizziness and vertigo are treatable in older adults!
The first step is determining the most likely cause of your symptoms. In older adults the two most common causes are:
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) or Positional Vertigo for short. This type of vertigo is caused by loose crystals in your inner ear. These crystals are a normal part of the inner ear, but in individuals with vertigo, they break loose from the surface of the inner ear and start to float around. Since it is not normal for these crystals to float around inside the inner ear, they cause you to feel like you’re spinning even when you are not.
A Weak Inner Ear or Vestibular System. Your inner ear acts as your sense of equilibrium. Just like other parts of your body, it can get weaker with age, leading to dizziness and feeling unsteady on your feet.
There are also several other causes for dizziness and vertigo in older adults. After we perform a thorough medical history and testing to help determine the cause of your dizzy spells, we perform specific exercises called Vestibular Rehab to help strengthen your inner ear.
This is a specialty area in Physical Therapy. It focuses on identifying the underlying cause of the dizziness and then strengthening and recalibrating the inner ear, so that movements that typically bring on dizziness do not do so anymore.
One of the basic principles of vestibular rehab is habituation exercises. These are exercises that repeatedly expose you to the movements that make you dizzy. With repetition, your brain relearns and you begin to ignore the "dizzy signal" and experience lessening of your symptoms.