Dizziness can be a particular problem as you get older
Dizziness can happen to anyone but can become a particular problem as you get older. There are many possible causes, including ear infections, low blood sugar, standing up suddenly when you have low blood pressure (hypotension), even heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation.
Dizziness isn’t just unpleasant; it increases your risk of falling and may undermine your confidence so you can’t enjoy ordinary daily activities for fear of falling.
A study funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published in the British Medical Journal, looked at more than 300 patients of varying ages who had dizziness caused by inner ear problems or undiagnosed dizziness. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One received routine medical care, which usually involves reassurance and medicine to suppress the dizziness. The second were given a booklet containing vestibular rehabilitation (balance retraining) exercises, while the third group received the same booklet and had support via the telephone from a healthcare professional. The support involved a 30-minute phone call when the patients started the exercise programme, and then two 15-minute sessions, at one week and three weeks into the programme.
The researchers studied the results at 12 weeks (immediately after the treatment finished) and after a year. They found that the exercises reduced dizziness within a few weeks, and the benefits lasted for at least a year. Nearly twice as many patients who had the booklet and telephone support said they felt much better or totally well at the end of the study, compared with those who had routine care. Even those who did the exercises but didn’t get the phone support recovered better than those receiving routine care.
Professor Lucy Yardley of the University of Southampton and one of the authors of the study, has called on GPs to give copies of the booklet to patients suffering with dizziness caused by inner-ear problems. At the moment only about one in 10 suitable patients are referred for vestibular rehabilitation, despite the fact that it has, in previous research, been shown to be the most effective way of treating this type of dizziness.
“Dizziness and balance disorders can be extremely debilitating and affect a person’s quality of life,” says UK Director of the Ménière's Society, Natasha Harrington-Benton. “This study demonstrates the benefits of vestibular rehabilitation in helping people to manage the symptoms of their condition. We are pleased to be able to provide access to the exercise booklets for both patients and health professionals, and, to date, we have distributed over 8,000 copies.”
If your GP doesn’t have the booklet, ‘Balance Retraining’, the Ménière's Society will send you a free copy. You can contact them on their helpline, 0845 120 2975, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. However, as Natasha Harrington-Benton explains, it is important to talk to your GP before starting these exercises, in case they aren’t appropriate for you.
National Dizziness and Balance Awareness Week
The week beginning October 8 is National Dizziness and Balance Awareness Week and health centres across the country will be holding information stands on dizziness and imbalance to raise the profile of vestibular disorders among the general public. "We want to draw people living with dizziness and imbalance out of isolation by knowing that there is help out there," says Natasha Harrington-Benton. "The more people who understand the difficulties of living with dizziness and imbalance, including employers and the general public, the easier it is for those who suffer to regain confidence and to live their lives."
Ménière's Society www.menieres.org.uk