As we age, we can experience challenges with things like nutrition, taste, memory, and even balance. In fact, balance issues are among the most common reasons that people over the age of 65 see their healthcare providers.
Balance issues in seniors are common and can be caused by a variety of factors, including age-related changes in the body, medications, health conditions, and environmental hazards. There are a number of coping mechanisms that can help seniors manage balance problems, including exercise, vision correction, and safety precautions.
If you or your loved one are experiencing balance challenges, it can feel quite scary. Fear of falling can significantly impact quality of life; some older adults even choose to remain more sedentary so that they do not have to worry about taking a tumble. However, a more sedentary lifestyle leads to decreased strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance, leading to a vicious cycle of health concerns.
Fortunately, there are ways to work on improving balance, and it is never too late to begin. In addition to working with your physician and physical therapist, you might find that a more supportive living environment, such as an assisted living community, could be key to combating any balance fears.
Causes of Balance Issues in Seniors
The first step to improving balance is to learn more about why balance problems occur in the first place. It is common for older adults to experience some type of balance challenge, though the reasons why are unique to the person. For example, older adults might experience balance issues as a result of lightheadedness that comes with circulatory system diseases, including a past stroke. Breathing issues caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other conditions can also make balance difficult, especially when standing from a sitting or lying position.
However, it isn’t just medical conditions that cause balance issues. Here are the most common causes of balance issues:
Medication Side Effects
Medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, are meant to help combat symptoms of disease and help us feel better. However, side effects can often lead to other problems, including problems with balance.
Perhaps the biggest culprit of balance issues in seniors is medications that help adults manage blood pressure. You shouldn’t stop taking these medications, but it is important to review the balance problems you are having with your physician and with your pharmacist. There could be other medications to try that will give relief from feeling unbalanced.
Balance can be affected by vision challenges as well. With many seniors living with low vision, it can mean those seniors are having more problems at home trying to remain balanced. Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration can cause adults to feel unstable on their feet and unsure of their environment, which can end up leading to falls.
Living with a chronic condition means learning how that condition affects daily life. For many seniors, chronic conditions can increase the risk for falling and balance challenges. For example, older adults living with diabetes can experience lightheadedness and balance problems when blood sugar is too low, according to the American Diabetes Association. Other chronic conditions, such as COPD and cardiovascular disease, are also linked to balance problems and increased risk of falling.
Age-Related Hearing Loss
You might not correlate hearing loss with balance problems, but the National Institute on Aging reports that many seniors experience inner ear disorders that can lead to balance challenges. The inner ear is responsible for the body’s balance system, and any infection or condition that affects the inner ear can significantly impair one’s ability to feel balanced and stable.
Signs and Symptoms of Balance Disorders
Balance challenges often occur slowly over time, which means that you or your loved one might not notice a difference right away. However, if you experience or notice any of the below symptoms, it is time to schedule a physician appointment in order to get to the bottom of why the balance challenge is occurring. Then, the physician can put a treatment plan into place before a fall happens.
Symptoms of balance challenges can include:
- Feeling dizzy when you stand up from a sitting or lying position
- Experiencing dizziness or a spinning sensation after standing for long periods of time
- Feeling lightheaded or faint at any time
- Feeling a floating sensation at any time
- Experiencing blurred vision or seeing “floaters” in your field of vision
- Feeling confused or disoriented
- Feeling unstable when standing or walking
- Falling down or needing to lower yourself to sitting immediately
Dealing With a Balance Disorder
No matter the reason behind balance issues in seniors, there are ways to stay healthy, safe, and free from serious falls. Work closely with your physician and physical therapist to determine what treatment plan is best for you. Then, consider adjusting your environment and lifestyle to complement your plan.
Address Health Problems That Cause Balance Problems
The first step in improving balance issues is to understand the cause. Schedule an appointment with your physician to review your current medical conditions and medications that could be contributing to balance issues. Your medical team might order tests to get a better idea of what could be causing the challenges, and they might even add a medical diagnosis. Once the problem is identified, they can develop a treatment plan.
Support a Healthy Lifestyle and Make Balance Exercises Part of Your Routine
Now that you have the cause identified and are working with a physician, it’s time to consider other ways you can support healthy balance. First, work with your physical therapist to determine what exercises are safe to do daily at home or in a group fitness setting. Balance exercises are often a part of older adult fitness groups, including tai chi and yoga. Working on balance in a safe environment can help you gain confidence and feel more comfortable with daily tasks.
Remove Obstacles in the Home and Install Assistive Devices
Another way to improve confidence and quality of life is to adjust the environment to meet your balance needs. If you or your loved one have balance problems, make sure their safety isn’t hampered by their environment. Consider adding grab bars in the bathroom and shower, increasing lighting in dark areas of the home, and adding nightlights to ensure walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night is as safe as possible. Work with a physical therapist to get personalized suggestions as well.
Assisted living communities are specially designed to meet the needs of adults who might struggle with falls or balance issues. From carpeting choices to bathroom features, assisted living homes are created to minimize risk and increase independence for every resident. If you or your loved one are struggling with feeling safe at home because of balance issues, an assisted living community could be the key to your peace of mind.
Learn more about assisted living options and how to find a community that suits your needs and preferences by downloading our free guide, “Finding a Safe and Comfortable Senior Living Community.”