Balance Problems

Lifestyle & Management

There are some simple, common-sense ways to reduce the impact of loss of balance or a dizzy spell.   

Tips to Prevent Loss of Balance

  • Sit or lie down right away if you feel dizzy.
  • During a vertigo attack, avoid things that will make the sensations worse. Move slowly and try not to change the position of your head. Rest your eyes by staying away from bright lights and television. Don’t try to read.
  • Rest as much as you can and don’t try to go back to your regular activities before you are ready.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Avoid exposure to things that may congest your sinuses.
  • Try to manage your stress and anxiety levels. Medications, yoga, meditation, or psychotherapy are all effective.

Exercise

Researchers have found that the following exercise routines and strategies can improve your balance and reduce the risk of falling:

  • Tai Chi, dance, postural awareness, or yoga programs.
  • Gait training (programs to improve the way you walk).
  • Strengthening and resistance exercises, including aerobic and resistance training in water.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation therapy.  This is a special program of exercises and activities designed to retrain your body and brain to work together to optimize balance.

Balance training can be done throughout the day. Activities can include walking backward, or heel-to-toe walking, or standing on one foot and then the other for several seconds (initially using gentle support). Balance is like any other motor skill: it requires practice in a safe environment.

As your strength and physical mobility improve, you will be able to be more independent. Remind your family and friends to allow you to do the tasks and activities that you can, so that you will improve further.

Dietary Adjustments

Some changes in your diet may be quite helpful, depending on your diagnosis. Generally, it is important to eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid too much alcohol.  It is also important to make sure you have enough vitamin D in your body.  Low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of having balance problems, falling down, and breaking bones. Your healthcare provider can check the level of vitamin D in your body with a blood test.

If you have Meniere’s disease, your doctor may suggest the following:

  • Avoid caffeine (in coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas) since stimulation from caffeine may make symptoms like tinnitus worse.
  • Eat six small meals daily rather than three large ones, and eat and drink the same amounts each time.
  • Reduce your daily salt intake to less than 1,500 mg, to reduce fluid retention.
  • Avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG), a meat tenderizer and flavor enhancer. MSG may cause fluid retention.

If you have sudden low blood pressure (orthostatic hypotension), you should:

  • Drink plenty of fluids every day.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Consider increasing your salt intake to encourage fluid retention (if you don’t have high blood pressure between hypotension episodes). Check with your healthcare provider to see if it is safe for you to increase your salt.

Other Non-Drug Therapies

Corrective devices for hearing or vision problems

Hearing aids and properly prescribed eyeglasses can help reduce symptoms of dizziness and disequilibrium. Get treatment for cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration if you have any of these conditions.

Assistive devices to help with walking (walking aids)

Physiotherapists are trained to help you choose an assistive device or walking aid, depending on your balance problem and health status. These range from a simple walking cane to more elaborate walkers and wheelchairs. Your walking aid must be carefully matched to your particular needs.

Walking aids can keep you living safely and independently when they are properly used. 

Complications

Dizziness, loss of balance, and vertigo can increase the risk of:

  • Dehydration: if you have nausea and frequent, uncontrolled vomiting
  • Car crashes: from driving while experiencing symptoms of dizziness or vertigo
  • Depression or anxiety: due to difficulties in carrying on your normal activities and reduced quality of life
  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Stroke, brain damage or dementia: In very rare cases of frequent blood pressure swings, you may increase your risk for these complications.
  • Falls and fractures

The increased risk of falls and fractures is the most serious complication of balance problems. Visiting nurses or occupational therapists trained to evaluate home safety can check to make sure that your home is as safe as possible. They often recommend some changes be made, such as:

  • better lighting
  • removing obstacles and hazards like loose rugs, electrical wires, and unstable furniture
  • placing handrails in hallways, bathrooms, and on stairs

Other lifestyle approaches to reduce falls include:

  • using proper footwear (well-fitting walking shoes with low heels, thin firm soles, and heel collar support)
  • making adjustments in your medications
  • exercising, including balance improvement programs

Support Groups

If you have a chronic balance problem, it can affect all aspects of your life:  social and family relationships, performance at work, the ability to carry out tasks at home, and the ability to relax. Support groups can give you the encouragement and understanding that only comes from sharing the challenges that you experience with others.

Support groups are also good sources of information and tips for coping. Search online, or ask your healthcare provider to recommend a support group in your area if you would like to share your experiences and meet others who are working on the same challenges in their lives.

 

Last Updated November 2016