Vertigo in Older Adults

OlderAdultCare.com Team Written by OlderAdultCare.com teamDr. Burak Gezen, M.D.Medically reviewed by Dr. Burak E. Gezen M.D.
Vertigo in Older Adults

Vertigo is a serious condition that affects a person’s ability to keep their balance. Affecting people of all ages, older adults face greater challenges when it comes to the issue. Some are already less steady on their feet due to vision, hearing and mobility issues. That’s why being accurately diagnosed with vertigo by a medical professional gives the elderly access to the best treatment options and resources available.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed older adults and learned that one in four had experienced a fall sometime that year. Amounting to 36 million falls in one year alone, the risks that come with falling for older adults are often more severe than they are for younger people. The reason behind the statement is that older adults often live alone where they can’t get assistance easily, and their bodies are more fragile resulting in them falling and hurting themselves severely.

Over eight million falls are severe enough to require medical attention or cause a person to be limited to doing little throughout the day to heal. Although many falls are completely avoidable, it isn’t until an issue such as vertigo is addressed by a medical professional that the risk factors for falling decreases significantly. Follow along to learn more about vertigo in the elderly.

What is Vertigo in Older Adults?

Vertigo in the Elderly

Vertigo is a disorder that arises out of malfunction of the vestibular system. The vestibular system consists of fluid filled loops in the inner ear coordinated and processed by the brain. When this system doesn’t function properly, the classic presentation is a sensation of the room spinning. The sensation can very uncomfortable and is frequently associated with nausea, and sometimes vomiting. It can cause significant anxiety, and is associated with poor quality of life.

When a senior experiences vertigo, it’s important for them to get a medical evaluation. It can be useful to take notes about the experience. That way, they can relay their findings to their doctor to speed up the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Dizziness vs Vertigo: What is the Difference?

Many people equate dizziness for vertigo. Vertigo is a sub-type of dizziness. Dizziness usually falls in 3 different categories, presyncope, ataxia, or vertigo:

Presyncope is a sensation of light-headedness or almost passing out. It can be caused by dehydration, low blood sugar, heat, infection, and low blood pressure.

Ataxia is a sensation of feeling like you are on a ship. You are neither light-headed nor does it feel like room spinning. It’s simply a lack of balance. Ataxia can be caused by anything that can cause neuropathy or damage to nerve fibers, stroke or medications.

Being able to describe what exactly the cause of dizziness is, Presyncope, Ataxia or Vertigo, can be very useful when determining the cause.

What are the Signs of Vertigo in Older Adults?

What are the Signs of Vertigo in Older Adults

As with any other condition affecting older adults, some signs of vertigo are more noticeable than others. That’s why the elderly needs to see their primary care physician regularly for physical examinations. A trained professional knows what to look for when it comes to vertigo in the patients that they treat.

Some common signs of vertigo in the elderly include:

  • A feeling that things are spinning.
  • Dizziness.
  • Ringing in the ears.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Eye movements that are abnormal.
  • Vomiting.
  • Difficulties balancing.
  • Lack of concentration.

Learning the root cause of vertigo allows older people to seek the help that they need to make it less of an issue in their lives. It’s especially important for individuals living alone to seek immediate care for the issue because they’re at great risk for accident and death because there isn’t someone in their immediate presence that can call for help.

Some seniors may experience multiple symptoms at once. If they do, it makes diagnosing the issue easier for medical professionals. Issues with vertigo should not be ignored, especially in people who already have trouble balancing and use mobility devices to move. They may not be able to continue to walk with a cane or walker as long as vertigo causes them to feel dizzy and blur their vision.

What are the Risks of Vertigo?

Vertigo risks include falling and injuries oneself. A significant fall can lead to hospitalization. It may cause permanent disabilities and even death. Since the risk of falling increases as a person ages, vertigo only compacts the problem. A lack of depth perception can cause the elderly to make a misstep, trip, and fall.

Another common risk associated with vertigo in the elderly is low self-esteem. People feel a loss of independence because they feel as though they can no longer do the things they once did on their own. Feelings of hopelessness and depression set in, causing the health of the elderly person to decline. The older person may seem more irritable than usual, too, because of the issues they’re experiencing with vertigo.

Untreated vertigo poses a greater risk for falls which is already higher in older adults. If a person notices that their elderly relative, friend, or neighbor is displaying the symptoms of vertigo, they should encourage them to see a doctor right away. Having a medical alert button or system set up in the home of the senior helps them contact medical personnel immediately if they do fall and can’t get back up on their own.

How is Vertigo Treated?

Vertigo is unique to the individual, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution that resolves the issue in the elderly. The most common of vertigo in all adults including elderly is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). In this condition, tiny crystals in the fluid filled loops of vestibular system become dislodged. This condition can usually be cured with a very precise series of movements as directed by a qualified health professional. Physical therapists with special training in vestibular therapy, neurologist or ear, nose and throat (ENT) physicians have special expertise in the management of vertigo and BPPV. Providers that use or have access to Infrared Video Goggles can be particularly effective in diagnosing and managing BPPV vertigo and other causes of vertigo.

Cases of vertigo not due to BPPV can be more complex and challenging. Working with several medical professionals might provide the answers a family member or friend needs to feel safe and comfortable being alone once again.

How to Help Seniors with Vertigo

How to Help Seniors with Vertigo

There are many ways for people to assist older relatives, friends, and neighbors dealing with vertigo. Two options are commonly chosen as they provide faster relief and greater peace of mind. They are hiring home care services to assist with caregiving and reducing the older adult’s risk of falling and physical therapy services which can reduce the symptoms caused by vertigo. Both options are highly beneficial and complement one another.

Caregivers perform many of the tasks taken on by the senior person in an attempt to limit how much they try to do physically throughout the day. Instead of attempting to complete a task on their own, the older adult may get assistance from a home care service aide. Tasks can be anything from cooking a meal to getting out of bed.

Other things can be done to help older people with vertigo. If the condition is stress-related, alleviating some of the factors causing the stress helps.

Eliminating falling risks is also very important. Clearing clutter and removing obstructions on stairways and walkways is imperative. It may not prevent vertigo from occurring, but it will make it safer for the elderly person experiencing the condition to move around their homes and properties safely. Having safe places for them to sit down and rest if they grow tired or feel dizzy is also important.