With close to 16% of U.S. adults reporting balance issues of some kind, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is urging the public to learn more about dizziness, vertigo, and other balance disorders during Balance Awareness Week, Sept. 17–23, 2023.
“Everyone experiences dizziness occasionally, but for some people, dizziness, vertigo, and other symptoms may persist—creating a significant quality-of-life issue as well as a safety hazard,” says Robert Augustine, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2023 ASHA President. “Balance problems can affect our ability to drive, work, socialize, and participate in just about any daily activity. Also, they put people at greater risk of falls, a leading cause of injury, hospitalization, and even death in older adults.”
Balance Awareness Week was founded by the Vestibular Disorders Association (VeDA) in 1997. During this week, VeDA and its partner organizations—including ASHA—seek to raise visibility of balance issues and encourage the public to get help for such problems.
Symptoms and Causes
The brain maintains balance by using information from eyes, the inner ear (vestibular system), and the sensory systems of the body (such as the skin, muscles, and joints). Problems with any one of these body parts can result in vertigo, dizziness, and/or unsteadiness. In addition, some medications can contribute to dizziness or imbalance, so it is important to discuss this with your primary care physician.
Treating hearing loss is an important aspect of reducing the risk of balance issues in the broader adult population. Half of U.S. adults ages 75 and older have disabling hearing loss, but fewer than one in three people over age 70 who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever tried them.
Testing and Treatment
Anyone experiencing symptoms such as blurred vision, sudden hearing loss, falls or problems walking, or weakness in the arms and legs should see a doctor immediately. Based on symptoms, a physician may refer a person for balance testing by an audiologist. The purpose of balance testing is to evaluate a person’s eyes, vestibular system, and sensory systems—to identify the root cause of a person’s balance problems. Based on this information, an audiologist can make recommendations for treatment.
Sometimes, balance problems require surgery or medication. Some people benefit from balance treatment called vestibular rehabilitation, an individualized balance-retraining exercise program. The goals are to decrease dizziness and to improve balance, functional activities, and quality of life. Many audiologists can provide this training. Other clinicians such as physical therapists and occupational therapists are trained to provide more extensive rehabilitation as well as fall-risk prevention.