Optimal balance is achieved through the unified efforts of several of our body’s systems. Among the most crucial ones are the ears, nerves, eyes, joints, and brain. When any of these systems are impaired, unsteadiness can result. Here are some medical conditions that threaten balance in seniors along with how to address them.
1. Inner Ear Infection or Malfunction
In large part, the inner ear governs balance. The maze-like structures involved comprise the vestibular system, which includes the vestibular labyrinth. If a virus infects the labyrinth, the resultant swelling can affect balance. Symptoms include unsteadiness, dizziness, nausea, and a spinning sensation called vertigo. An inner ear nerve infection can produce the same symptoms. Calcium crystals in the labyrinth also control balance. If they shift from their normal locations, they can trigger positional vertigo.
For many balance issues, the first step is taking your senior loved one to his or her primary care physician (PCP). The doctor will strive to pinpoint the source of poor balance. If your loved one has an ear infection, the doctor will prescribe antiviral or antibiotic medication. If the doctor suspects vestibular malfunction, he or she may make a referral to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). In turn, the ENT will conduct diagnostic tests.
For a finding of positional vertigo, the doctor may teach your loved one the Epley maneuver. This is a series of painless movements that return loose calcium crystals to their proper place. For unresolved vertigo, the ENT may urge seeing a vestibular rehab therapist (VRT). This professional will teach your loved one exercises to help the inner ear function better. The movements combine eye, head, and walking exercises designed to increase stability.
2. Low or High Blood Pressure
Extremes in blood pressure can prompt dizziness by impacting blood flow to the brain. A sudden drop in blood pressure can occur when rising after sitting or lying down. A common trigger is low blood sugar, especially in seniors with poor appetites. Another possibility is dehydration from sweating, diarrhea, or low fluid intake. Lengthy bedrest can cause dizziness when a senior sits up in bed. Additionally, certain prescription drugs can lower blood pressure too much.
If your loved one feels woozy for a few minutes, the remedy may be simple. However, a prolonged drop in blood pressure requires medical assessment. Symptoms may include instability, weakness, confusion, blurred vision, nausea, and fainting. On the other hand, high blood pressure could also make your loved one feel weak and unsteady.
To avoid bouts of low blood pressure, keep your loved one well hydrated. For a picky eater with low blood sugar, use strategies to stimulate your loved one’s appetite. For instance, serve colorful foods on red dishes. Rather than providing three meals a day, offer six wholesome snacks. You or your loved one’s caregiver can cut up food to facilitate eating. For easier swallowing, prepare soups and smoothies.
Before your loved one gets out of bed, have him or her pump his or her ankles. You can also help your loved one perform four rounds of opening and closing his or her hands. Both these tactics boost blood flow to the brain. If a potent blood pressure drug causes faintness, ask the doctor for a dose adjustment. Similarly, uncontrolled hypertension warrants medical treatment.
Seniors can face a variety of challenges as they age, many of which can be mitigated with the help of professional in-home caregivers who provide high-quality elderly home care. Trust Home Care Assistance to help your elderly loved one age in place safely and comfortably.
After a stroke, balance can be affected by vision loss, muscle weakness, limb numbness, poor coordination, and dizziness. For example, one-sided hip weakness can make it difficult to stand and walk safely. Foot weakness makes for wobbly ankles and scuffling, raising the likelihood of trips and falls.
To expedite stroke recovery, a senior must receive rehabilitative care. If your loved one is hospitalized, his or her case manager can help you find an appropriate rehab center. For mildly impaired balance, ask for a referral to an outpatient rehab facility.
Living with serious health conditions can make it challenging for seniors to age in place. However, they can maintain a higher quality of life with the help of professional 24-hour care. Allen seniors can benefit from assistance with meal prep, bathing, transportation to the doctor’s office, medication reminders, and much more.
4. Nerve Damage
Certain medical conditions harm neurological function. Among them are diabetes, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, shingles, and Lyme disease. Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can also injure nerves.
Defective nerves communicate poorly with the brain. Without clear neural input, the brain can’t coordinate limb movement, which causes imbalance. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage affecting the legs and feet. Symptoms include limb numbness, weakness, and pain. Frequently, this condition is traced to diabetes or a B vitamin deficiency.
Ask your loved one’s PCP for prescriptions and referrals for rehab therapy. Both occupational and physical therapists can help seniors adapt to nerve damage. They can also help aging adults maintain their current level of mobility.
Occupational therapists (OTs) teach alternative ways to move safely. OTs can also arrange fittings for splints and braces. Physical therapists (PTs) supervise treatments that boost strength, flexibility, and balance. Plus, they can reduce nerve pain with electric stimulation and massage. To further manage discomfort, a PCP can prescribe analgesic medications. To identify a B vitamin shortfall, the doctor can order blood tests. Deficiencies are correctable with vitamin B–rich foods, such as eggs, yogurt, beans, and fortified cereals.
5. Drug & Supplement Side Effects
Specific types of drugs jeopardize balance by making people drowsy or light-headed. Other medicines may cause blurred vision or disrupt inner ear function. The drugs implicated treat depression, diabetes, anxiety, blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, pain, and Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, some herbs and supplements can spur unsteadiness. Among them are St. John’s wort, medical marijuana, Ginkgo biloba, and melatonin. With any of these substances, poor balance can worsen by combining them with alcohol and other medications.
Whenever your loved one starts a new drug, supplement, or herbal preparation, have a trustworthy adult monitor the effects. Also, keep alcoholic drinks inaccessible to your loved one. With the new regimen, if your loved one exhibits poor balance, tell the prescribing clinician. Ask if the clinician can order a substitute medicine or therapeutic supplement. If not, perhaps he or she can safely lower the dosage.
6. Impaired Vision
Impaired vision contributes to falls in two ways. First, poor sight hinders inner ear sensitivity, thwarting balance control. Second, vision loss makes it difficult to avoid obstacles and hazards while moving around.
Seniors are vulnerable to four age-related eye disorders—cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Such diseases can reduce or destroy clear vision. Other eye conditions common in seniors are floaters, dry eyes, and excessive tearing. Presbyopia is the diminished ability to see small print and close objects.
At least once a year, have your loved one examined by an ophthalmologist. Also, every four months, ensure your loved one sees the PCP for a checkup. This way, the doctor can identify diseases that harm vision at their onset.
Get your loved one to an eye doctor immediately if he or she has double vision, eye pain, or sudden vision loss. Another emergency is seeing flashing lights in one or both eyes. Also needing ophthalmic care are eye swelling, redness, or excessive tearing.
To further prevent falls at home:
- Install grab bars in the bathroom and shower
- Remove throw rugs
- Ensure all staircases have dual railings
- Keep hallways and rooms well lit using motion sensors and handy light switches
7. Hearing Loss
Even mild hearing loss triples the likelihood of falling. This was the finding of a 2012 study by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The researchers cite three reasons for the increased fall risk. First, those with hearing loss are less aware of their surroundings. Second, they have reduced spatial perception. This is the capacity to sense one’s body position relative to other objects. Third, when the brain can’t interpret sounds, it must process input from other senses. The mental overload can sabotage balance.
For the second phase of this study, the subjects wore hearing aids. Consequently, their balance got markedly better. With sharp hearing, they could use sounds as landmarks to maintain their footing. Plus, they were more alert.
Medical experts advise those over age 50 to get hearing tests every three years. To find an audiologist for your loved one, AARP suggests getting a referral from the ENT department at your local hospital. Another option is using the search tool on the website of the American Academy of Audiology. Your PCP may also know a reputable audiologist in your community.
Balance issues, no matter what the cause, can make it difficult for seniors to safely handle the tasks of daily living. There are a variety of age-related health conditions that can make it more challenging for seniors to live independently. However, many of the challenges they face can be easier to manage if their families opt for professional senior care. Allen families can rely on expertly trained caregivers to keep their loved ones safe and comfortable while aging in place. Trust your loved one’s care to the professionals at Home Care Assistance. Reach out to one of our compassionate Care Managers today at (972) 548-0392.