Question: My mother occasionally experiences vertigo. How can we help her minimize the discomfort and also maintain balance?
Answer: Vertigo is a symptom and can present as feelings of the room spinning or swaying, or of being unbalanced or pulled to one side. When experiencing vertigo, it’s important not to drive, and to use a cane or walker to keep balanced and prevent falls. If you’re experiencing dizziness, it’s best to stay at home. If vertigo is happening on a regular basis, you should make an appointment with your primary care provider to find out the cause.
Occasional vertigo might not be serious, but recurring episodes that become more frequent or last longer should definitely be checked out.
There can be many causes of vertigo or dizziness. One cause may be an inner ear problem, such as a viral infection or ear infection. Sometimes medications an older adult has taken in the past, such as aspirin or antibiotics, can affect the inner ear and cause tinnitus and dizziness. In fact, many medications can cause vertigo, so it’s important to discuss the symptoms of vertigo with your primary care provider to determine if a medication should be decreased, changed or stopped. Some common medications that can cause dizziness are antidepressants, blood pressure medications and sedatives. This is why adults over age 65 should not take antihistamines like Benadryl on a regular basis, as Benadryl can cause dizziness and an increased risk of falling.
…adults over age 65 should not take antihistamines like Benadryl on a regular basis, as Benadryl can cause dizziness and an increased risk of falling.
Some other causes of vertigo can be migraine headaches, arrhythmia, diabetes, prolonged bed rest, and shingles in or near the ear.
If your mom is experiencing vertigo, you may want to try the following:
- Have her lie still in a dark, quiet room until the feeling passes.
- Make sure she is moving her head slowly during activities, and she should not drive or operate machinery.
- If she is on blood pressure medications, make sure she gets up slowly to prevent dizziness. Be sure to keep appointments with her primary care physician to monitor her blood pressure, as she may experience dizziness if it’s too high or too low.
- She should stay hydrated with water and avoid drinking too much coffee, tea or alcohol, as these are diuretics. An easy check on hydration is to monitor the color of her urine. It should be clear like water, not yellow or dark yellow.
- Make sure to have a nightlight in the bathroom for safety when she’s getting up at night.
- She should use a cane or walker to keep stabilized and to prevent falls.
If the symptoms of vertigo become more frequent or worse, an appointment with her primary care provider is needed to discuss what could be causing it. Be sure to bring all medications, including over-the-counter, as well as any herbal supplements she takes with you to the appointment so these can be evaluated. It’s also a great idea to keep a diary of when the vertigo happens, including the time of day, her activity, and whether it took place before or after a meal (especially if she is diabetic) to help her primary care provider figure out the cause. The best thing to do is to keep track of the episodes and take this information to her primary care provider to find out the cause. In most cases, however, vertigo is temporary and will resolve on its own.
The best thing to do is to keep track of the episodes and take this information to her primary care provider to find out the cause.