According to a 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 5000, US adults, 35% of adults age 40 or older had some sort of vestibular dysfunction; as the reported age increased to people over 60 years old, the percentage jumped to 65% and 85% in people over 80 years old. As medicine advances and increases our lifespan, it seems that more and more of us will be experiencing some form of vertigo or dizziness in our lifetime. This makes understanding causes and solutions for vertigo much more imperative.
What is balance?
We can’t answer the question of dizziness without first understanding how our balance system works. We gather input from three primary sources: our vision, our inner ears (semicircular canals and otoliths) and our joint proprioceptors. The proprioceptors in our joints sense movement in our body, our inner ears give us an orientation of our head on our neck, and our vision gives us the perspective of where everything is in relation to our environment. All this information is then sent to our cerebellum which is like our brain’s hard drive, processing everything to make adjustments as need to keep us upright and walking straight.
How do we lose our balance?
There are many culprits of why we lose our balance and begin to experience symptoms of vertigo. As the 2001-2004 survey suggests, age is one of the most significant factors. As we age, our vestibular system in our inner ear becomes less sensitive due to natural degenerative changes. We also lose some of the sensitivity of our joint proprioceptors. This in turn can lead to balance deficits and occasional dizziness. We also lose our near sight as the lens of our eyes begins to reshape. These natural occurring degenerative changes result in a loss of all three balance inputs into our balance mainframe (cerebellum). However, don’t be discouraged…balance and vertigo can be changed in a positive direction with a few easy steps! Wearing properly fit eyeglasses to correct for our loss of near sight and keeping our houses well-lit can improve our visual input. Joint proprioceptors can improve their sensitivity with simple tasks like walking and balancing on soft surfaces like grass and sand. Postural improvements and improved neck mobility can help to improve input from our inner ears and help to reduce dizziness.
If you are experiencing dizziness or know somebody who is, come and see our Oahu medical specialists at Oahu Spine and Rehab!