Loss of balance among people 65 or over is a common occurrence. It is one of the top reasons for falls among the elderly. Preventing and treating balance problems take many different forms, depending on the cause of the issue.
Dizziness, inner-ear problems, musculoskeletal problems, medication interactions, and dietary habits can all cause balance problems among the elderly. Luckily, there are several different ways to treat balance issues, no matter their cause. Some of these treatments include chiropractic care, physician visits, balance exercises, and medication changes.
At What Age Does Balance Decline?
Believe it or not, the processes that help us stay upright begin to degrade at the age of 25. However, this doesn’t typically become a problem until we reach 40 or 50 years old. By the time we reach 65 years old, there’s a noticeable difference in these complex balance processes our bodies perform any time we need to balance.
When you compound the effects of normal aging on balance with things like inner ear problems, musculoskeletal problems, or poor dietary habits, things get worse. According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately one in three elderly adults falls each year.
But all hope is not lost. There are things you can do to improve your balance and prevent falls as you get older.
First, let’s take a look at a few of the most common complaints among older adults, and what causes them.
Common Balance Complaints
There are many different types of imbalances because the human body’s processes for maintaining balance are numerous. Everything works together to keep us upright when we walk, including our joints, muscles, spatial awareness, vision, inner ear, and semicircular canals.
These are grouped into three balance systems, known as the visual, somatosensory, and vestibular. These three systems feed information to the brain which it uses to maintain balance as we move around. But each of these systems can receive interference in different ways, which can cause us to fall.
Here are some common balance issues and their possible causes.
Loss of Balance When Walking
A loss of balance when walking is common among elderly adults and can be incredibly frustrating. Here are some likely causes to consider.
- Joint and Muscle Problems
- Muscle weakness and joint function can cause a loss of balance when walking.
- Vision Problems
- Many people’s vision fades as they get older, and this can cause confusion, especially among shadows or dark landscapes.
- Inner Ear Issues
- Abnormalities in the inner ear can cause a feeling of floating, heaviness, and imbalance.
- Certain medications can cause imbalance, lightheadedness, and dizziness.
- Neurological Conditions
- Parkinson’s disease and cervical spondylosis can cause loss of balance when walking.
Feeling Off-Balance But Not Dizzy
Dizziness and a lack of balance are usually associated, but not always. In fact, most people who feel off balance but not dizzy are simply experiencing normal degradation of their balance systems. Luckily, this is not irreversible. It’s never too late to get your balance back— maybe not to the point it was at when you were in your 20s, but you can definitely improve it at any age!
Read on to find out the 4 best treatments for loss of balance in the elderly.
1. Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic care is the first on this list because of a 2015 study of the 2008 National Health Interview Survey. According to the data, those who sought chiropractic care for balance and dizziness reported that the care they received helped their condition. The study showed that chiropractic care had the highest incidents of success over all other health professionals in the survey.
This may be due to the fact the doctors of chiropractic work on the body as a whole and use a multifaceted approach to healing. They can address muscle and joint problems, cervical spondylosis, inner ear issues, and dietary habits. Headaches can also cause dizziness. Chiropractic care has been shown to be an effective cluster headache treatment. Cluster, migraine, and tension headaches can start in the neck and form over time. Regular chiropractic care can prevent these types of headaches.
A common cause of balance problems among the elderly is attributable to subluxations in the spine, especially in the neck area. This is one reason why chiropractic adjustments have proven effective for vertigo.
2. Physician Visit
Of course, seeing your general practitioner is a good idea, especially if you think that your medications are causing your dizziness. Ask your doctor about alternatives to the medication that is causing you to lose your balance.
Sometimes poor balance is caused by cardiovascular disease. Blocked blood vessels can often cause a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness. Plus, it’s always a good idea to talk to your physician about any changes you plan on making, including exercise, diet, or chiropractic care. Many patients have had success when their general practitioner and their doctor of chiropractic work together to fix balance problems.
3. Balance Exercises
Research has shown that balance exercises— and exercise in general— is excellent for improving balance and reducing the chance of falls among elderly adults. When people start to experience balance problems they often refrain from exercising for fear of injury or embarrassment. This is understandable, but it’s usually the wrong thing to do. Exercising at least 150 minutes a week is one of the best ways to maintain good balance.
Here are some common types of exercise that help with balance:
- Tai Chi
- Qi Gong
- Weight Training
- Strength Training
- Balance Training
4. Medication and Diet
Last on the list is all about changing your medication and diet. Dizziness is a side-effect of most medications. So, the more medications a person takes, the more likely they are to experience poor balance and subsequent falls. Of course, you should always consult a physician before stopping any medication. Ask for alternatives that won’t cause dizziness, or find out if there’s a way to eliminate the medication.
Diet can also impact balance. Depending on what exactly is causing your balance problems, you may need to change your diet. Look out for the following in your everyday food:
- Salt – Those with Ménière’s disease can benefit from lowering their salt (sodium) intake. You need some salt in your diet to remain healthy, but generally not more than 1500 mg a day. It’s also important to keep your intake consistent, as wavering can cause dizziness and loss of balance.
- Alcohol and Caffeine – Both alcohol and caffeine can worsen balance problems for some people. Caffeine can also increase anxiety, which can contribute to poor balance. Try cutting back on both to see if your balance gets better.
- Whole Food and Adequate Vitamins – Unless you have specific foods you need to avoid, adhering to a diet rich in whole foods and vitamins can help you improve your balance. Staying hydrated is also ideal for maintaining a healthy body and proper balance.
What is Losing Balance a Symptom Of?
While simply getting older is often the cause of balance problems, things like vertigo and dizziness can also be symptoms of other things.
- Happens when a part of the inner ear (the labyrinth) becomes inflamed or infected.
- Balance issues and dizziness can also be caused by a stroke.
- Low Blood Pressure
- Those on blood pressure medication also often experience balance problems.
- Head Injury
- Whiplash can cause dizziness and balance problems.
- Head injuries or concussions can also cause dizziness.
- When the calcium crystals in the inner ear move where they’re not supposed to, dizziness when you turn your head is often a symptom. This is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and can be easily remedied by a chiropractor or physician.
Degrading balance is something we all will have to deal with at some point in our lives. Whether it’s caused by medication, disease, low blood pressure, lack of exercise, inner ear problems, or simply getting older, there are ways to address it. Chiropractic care and exercise have shown excellent promise for correcting many balance-related issues. The right course of treatment for you will depend on the cause of your balance problems. Talk to your doctor, your chiropractor, and your loved ones to find a way to live life with proper balance.