Monitoring Dizziness in Older Adults

Dizziness is one of the more common reasons adults visit their doctors.  Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions that cause dizziness, especially a sense of imbalance. They’re also more likely to take medications that can cause dizziness. Frequent dizzy spells or constant dizziness can significantly affect your life. But dizziness rarely signals a life-threatening condition. People experiencing dizziness may describe it as a sense of motion or spinning (vertigo), lightheadedness or feeling faint or unsteadiness or a loss of balance.

Get emergency medical care if you experience new, severe dizziness or vertigo along with any of the following:

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Numbness or paralysis of arms or legs
  • Fainting
  • Double vision
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking
  • Ongoing vomiting
  • Seizures
  • A sudden change in hearing
  • Facial numbness or weakness


  • Dizziness has many possible causes, including inner ear disturbance, medication effects, or something more serious.
  1. Inner ear problems that cause dizziness (vertigo) – Vertigo is the sense that your surroundings are spinning. With inner ear disorders, your brain receives signals from the inner ear that aren’t consistent with what your eyes and sensory nerves are receiving. Vertigo is what results as your brain works to sort out the confusion.
    • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This condition causes an intense and brief but false sense that you’re spinning or moving. These episodes are triggered by a rapid change in head movement, such as when you turn over in bed, sit up or experience a blow to the head. BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo.
    • Infection.
    • Meniere’s disease. This disease involves the excessive buildup of fluid in your inner ear. You may also have fluctuating hearing loss and ringing in the ear.
  2. Circulation problems – You may feel dizzy if your heart isn’t pumping enough blood to your brain.
    • Drop in blood pressure. A drop in blood pressure may result in brief lightheadedness. It can occur after standing too quickly. This condition is also called orthostatic hypotension.
    • Poor blood circulation. Conditions such as cardiomyopathy, heart attack, heart arrhythmia and transient ischemic attack could cause dizziness. And a decrease in blood volume may cause inadequate blood flow to your brain or inner ear.
  3. Other causes
    • Neurological conditions. Some neurological disorders — such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis — can lead to progressive loss of balance.
    • Medications. Dizziness can be a side effect of certain medications — such as anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, sedatives and tranquilizers. In particular, blood pressure lowering medications may cause faintness if they lower your blood pressure too much.
    • Low iron levels (anemia).
    • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
    • Overheating and dehydration. If you’re active in hot weather or if you don’t drink enough fluids.  This is especially true if you take certain heart medications.

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