Friday, July 17, 2015

For Many Seniors, Good Health Is a Balancing Act

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injuries in older adults. Many of these injuries are fatal. Nearly one out of three older adults falls each year.
While not all falls are caused by balance disorders, many are. Older Americans are at greater risk for balance problems. This is due to the natural aging process, as well as the fact that many conditions that can cause a balance issue – arthritis, taking medications, ear infections – are most common among seniors.
Some of the more common balance disorders include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, most people are familiar with vertigo. BPPV is one of the common balance disorders and is marked by an acute feeling of dizziness that occurs by a sudden change in the position of the head. It’s caused when tiny calcium crystals become loose and disrupt the sensors of the inner ear.
This is caused by an inner ear infection, often as part of respiratory infection such as the flu, and causes dizziness and a loss of balance.
Ménière’s disease
This is a condition marked by vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ears. Scientists aren’t sure about its cause.
Perilymph fistula
This condition occurs when fluid from the inner ear leaks into the middle ear, which can cause dizziness and nausea. It can result after a head injury, sudden changes in air pressure, surgery or ongoing ear infections.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you should schedule an appointment with an otolaryngologist, often called an ENT (ear/nose/throat) doctor. The doctor can help make a diagnosis and provide treatment, and also can determine if your condition may be a result of another underlying medical condition. Side effects of a medication might also be the cause.
Treatments range from the relatively simple (if you’re diagnosed with BPPV, your doctor may perform a series of movements to dislodge the crystals) to the more complex, which may include changes in diet or even surgery.
Not all balance disorders are curable, but symptoms can be mitigated. There are a number of exercises that can help people improve their balance. Tai chi and yoga have helped many people improve their balance and flexibilty. There are also several exercises you can do at home. For example: Using the back of a chair for support, lift one leg, so you’re standing one one foot. Hold for 10 seconds, then switch legs. Repeat this 10-15 times. Or try the heel-to-toe walk. Focus on a spot ahead of you and walk toward it by touching the heel of your foot to the toes of the other foot. Repeat for 20 steps.
To learn more about ways to help improve balance condition symptoms, you may want to consider making an appointment with a vestibular rehabilitation therapist. These professionals are trained in developing an exercise program to help the body compensate for inner ear disorders.

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