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Aging and Dizziness

What is the impact of aging on balance and dizziness? 

Dizziness and balance disorders are a frequent problem, especially in older adults. Over the age of 65, the problem of dizziness becomes one of the most common reasons for doctors’ office visits and hospitalizations. Some describe dizziness as a spinning sensation or “vertigo”. Others describe dizziness as a general feeling of unsteadiness, rocking sensation as if on a boat, and or as “lightheadedness”. Regardless of how dizziness is described, it can result in difficulty walking, nausea, anxiety, feelings of being tired, decreased ability to concentrate and even depression. Above all, it can increase the risk for falls, which is a serious health concern among older adults.


How long should I wait before I seek treatment for dizziness?

Regardless of the cause of your vestibular disorder, the sooner you start therapy the better. Research has shown that the brain and inner ears work best for compensation, or recovery, in the first few months after a vestibular deficit occurs. This time period is optimal for vestibular rehabilitation to promote the best chance for recovery. 

What can be done to help with dizziness and/or imbalance? 

Although there are natural physical changes that occur as we age, dizziness and falls are not “just part of getting older.” We use 3 primary systems to keep our balance: vision, sensation, and inner ear. A number of factors can affect these systems, resulting in unsteadiness, dizziness, blurriness and even nausea. It is important to have regular eye exams and appointments with your physician to check medications as well as other possible sources of dizziness or imbalance. If there is an inner ear disorder, you may be appropriate for a special kind of physical therapy called “vestibular rehabilitation” .

How can physical therapy alleviate dizziness and help prevent falls?

Physical therapists are trained to assess the multiple components of balance and determine whether you are at risk for falling. A vestibular physical therapist has specialized training to examine how your inner ear and brain are processing bal-ance and to help determine the cause(s) of your dizziness and/or unsteadiness. Most often there is more than one reason for dizziness and falls, which is consid-ered “multi-factorial.” Once the cause(s) are identified, the therapist can tailor a treatment plan to meet your goals and address your specific needs. It is important to recognize that fear of falling and lack of movement actually increase the risk of a fall. Therefore, it can be helpful to work with a physical therapist to help you safely move around in your environment and decrease your risk of falls. The good news is that many dizziness and balance disorders can be successfully treated with assistance from your doctor and therapist. 

What are my therapy sessions going to be like?

Therapy for vestibular disorders takes many forms. A qualified physical therapist (PT) will first perform a thorough evaluation that begins with a medical history and includes observing and measuring posture, balance and gait, and compensatory strategies. The assessment may also include eye-head coordination tests that measure how well a person’s eyes track a moving object with or without head movement. Using the results, the therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan that includes specific head, body, and eye exercises to be performed both in the therapy setting and at home. The type of exercise utilized depends upon the unique problems that the individual demonstrates during the evaluation. Some exercises are geared toward helping with balance, some with helping the brain resolve differences in the inner ear signals, and some with improving the ability to visually focus. In addition, general exercise is often prescribed to improve overall physical health and well-being. 

How soon can I expect to see improvements?

Each patient is unique, so this time frame can vary greatly. Research shows that depending on the severity of your condition, it takes from 2 weeks to a few months of treatment to resolve a vestibular condition. We most often request a frequency of 2-3 times a week for 12 total visits. That is why our office staff will ask you to schedule all 12 of your sessions before starting therapy. If you need more than 12 sessions, your therapist will discuss this with you after you have completed 12 visits and you will decide together whether continuing with therapy would benefit you or not. If so, your therapist will reevaluate you and send a progress note to your physician requesting an extension.

What are the credentials of my physical therapist?

All licensed physical therapists have had to apply and be selected to attend Physical Therapy school. It is a very competitive process and only those will the highest grades and best potential are selected. Doctors of physical therapy have invested a minimum of 7 years into their undergraduate and graduate training at universities. Once they graduate, they have to sit for a State Board Exam and pass to receive their license to practice. In order to keep their license active, they must dedicate a certain number of hours to continuing education each year.

At Anchor Physical Therapy we also require that therapists attend multiple post-graduate continuing education courses every year to stay up to date with latest research and continuously enhance their treatment skills in order to achieve the best possible treatment outcomes for our patients.

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