Causes of Dizziness in Older Adults

The most common balance disorders that can be causes of dizziness include vertigo, labyrinthitis and Meniere’s disease.

causes of dizziness

One way to treat balance disorders is to treat the medical condition (such as an infection or stroke) that may be contributing to the problem.

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Dizziness is not a specific medical disorder, but a set of symptoms frequently reported in older adults. Dizziness can be caused by many underlying factors that could involve the eyes, ears, thyroid, lungs, bladder, musculoskeletal system, brain, and heart. The emergency room physician who treats a patient with dizziness has to choose an approach that assumes the cause is relatively harmless, or a more aggressive treatment that is costly and time-consuming, but that could reveal a serious underlying cause. Judgment and training holds the key.

Diagnosing balance disorders is difficult because other medical conditions (lack of adequate blood flow, ear infection, blood pressure changes) and some medications may contribute to the problem. Your primary physician may refer you to an otolaryngologist to get a diagnosis.

The most common balance disorders that can be causes of dizziness are vertigo, labyrinthitis, Meniere’s disease, vestibular neuronitis and perilymph fistula.

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a common cause of vertigo. It causes a brief sensation of dizziness that may feel like the room is spinning around you when you move a certain way. It is self-limiting but can come and go over time. The exact cause is not known, but it is triggered when tiny calcium deposits in the inner ear break loose, causing part of your balancing mechanism to go awry.
  • Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear.
  • Meniere’s disease is a disorder of inner ear fluid that can cause recurring attacks of vertigo that may last for minutes to hours, and may be accompanied by buzzing, ringing, or roaring sounds in the ear. Again, the exact cause is not known.
  • Vestibular neuronitis is an infection, usually a virus, of the vestibular nerve.
  • Perilymph fistula is a condition in which the fluid of the inner ear leaks to the middle ear. It can occur following a head injury or exertion, but in some cases the cause is unknown.

Half of patients who have a vestibular disease report having had a fall during the previous year, and half of that group reported more than one fall.

Treating the Causes of Dizziness

One way to treat balance disorders is to treat the medical condition (such as an infection or stroke) that may be contributing to the problem. Another treatment option is balance retraining exercises, which involves specific movements of the head and body. Depending on the disorder, dietary changes, reducing alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine use, and antibiotics may be recommended.

A review of studies conducted at the University of Alabama Birmingham found that even with comprehensive diagnostic testing, the real causes of dizziness in older adults is still elusive. Among other findings:

  • Almost 20 percent of people 65 and older reported dizziness or balance problems during the previous year.
  • Symptoms occur more often in women than in men.
  • Less than five percent of patients report having continuous symptoms.
  • Frequency of symptoms ranges widely, but one study found the 35 percent of geriatric dizziness patients had symptoms daily, 14 percent weekly, and 51 percent monthly.
  • Approximately half of patients with vestibular disease receive some type of medication after initial visit to doctor.

For more information about balance issues and treatment, purchase Easy Exercises for Balance and Mobility from

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Jim Brown, PhD

As a former college professor of health education, Jim Brown brings a unique perspective to health and medical writing. He has authored 14 books on health, medicine, fitness, and sports. … Read More

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