Manage Vertigo, Improve Your Balance

man and banana peel on floor

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related emergency department visits—and the main cause of accidental deaths—among Americans 65 and older.

“Many falls are due to dizziness, or vertigo, which is a common medical problem,” says Judith White, MD, PhD, medical director of the new Balance, Dizziness and Fall Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic’s Beachwood Family Health and Surgery Center. “Dizziness is a serious condition because it increases a person’s risk of falling by 13 times.”

With winter approaching, people should be especially cautious. “Ice and snow are huge amplifiers for falls,” Dr. White says. “But so are wet floors, uneven pavement and even rugs. If you have any concerns about your balance, get checked by a doctor before you fall.”

What causes vertigo?

In most cases, vertigo is caused by an imbalance in the inner ear and nervous system. These imbalances are called vestibular disorders and may be accompanied by hearing loss.

“A recent study showed that 35 percent of American adults aged 40 and older have evidence of vestibular disorder,” Dr. White says. “If anyone experiences dizziness or balance difficulties, they should ask their physician to refer them to a vestibular specialist. There are many things that can be done to resolve or help the problem.”

To prevent falls, Dr. White recommends the following:

1. Get strong

A strong body, particularly your core, will improve your balance and help you avoid falls. Consult a doctor first, but you could try tai chi, yoga or even standard strength training.

2. Use handrails

Always use handrails when walking up and down stairs. Falls can happen at any age. Making it a rule to use the handrails could save you from a serious injury.

3. Remove hazardous items from the floor

Remove hazardous items from the floor that may trip people, such as stools and scatter rugs.

4. Wear flatter, flexible shoes with good tread

For women, it’s tempting to wear high heels, but flats are a safer option if you are worried about losing your balance. For men and women, be sure to wear shoes that have a good tread so you don’t slip on slippery floors.

5. Safety-proof your home

Place hand grips in the bath and shower and always use handrails when walking up and down stairs.