Dizziness among Older Adults. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:337. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-132-5-200003070-00026
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2000;132(5):337.
Older persons frequently complain of dizziness to their doctors. However, we do not know how common dizziness is in the general population of older adults (people who do and those who do not see doctors). The symptom of dizziness has been associated with increased risk for falls; fainting; disability; and, in a few studies, stroke and death. Most doctors and researchers have assumed that dizziness in an older person is caused by a single, specific medical condition, such as an inner ear or a heart problem.
The researchers wanted to find out how common dizziness really was in a population of older adults living in the community. They also wanted to identify factors related to dizziness.
The researchers studied 1087 persons at least 72 years of age who were living in New Haven, Connecticut. Only persons who could speak English, Spanish, or Italian could participate.
Research assistants interviewed study participants in their homes. Information collected included basic facts about the person, such as age and sex; diagnosed health problems; living situation; medications; and alcohol use. The researchers also did tests of sight and hearing and tests for depression, anxiety, impaired thinking, balance, coordination, and blood pressure.
Nearly one quarter of the study participants reported dizziness that had been present for at least 1 month. They described their dizziness in several different ways, including as loss of balance, spinning, and near fainting. Nearly three quarters of the persons with dizziness reported that several different activities triggered it. Anxiety, depression, hearing problems, taking five or more medications regularly, having blood pressure that decreased with standing (postural hypotension), problems with balance, and a past heart attack were more common in dizzy persons than in nondizzy persons.
The researchers may not have asked about factors some associated with dizziness. They also did not ask participants whether they had sought medical care for their dizziness, so we don't know how much it troubled them. The study was done in 1989 and 1990; the findings might be different today because new drugs have become available to treat high blood pressure and depression.
Dizziness is a common symptom among older adults living in the community. Dizziness in an older person often seems to be associated with a combination of other medical conditions and with the medications a person is taking rather than the result of a single underlying disease.
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