Vestibular dysfunction may raise risk of falls

By Tom Nordlie • Published: September 7th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Balance is one of the most important skills learned in childhood.

Ironically, many people lose that skill as they get older.

One reason is dysfunction of the vestibular [ves-TIBB-you-lurr] system. Located in the inner ear, it provides information to the brain about the head’s position.

When this system doesn’t work properly, it can lead to falls, a leading cause of injury and death among older people.

A study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine explored the prevalence of vestibular system dysfunction in the U-S.

Researchers examined data from a nationwide study of more than five-thousand adults, ages forty and up.

The subjects answered a questionnaire about problems with balance, dizziness and falls. Then they took four tests evaluating their ability to maintain balance while standing.

The results showed that, overall, thirty-five percent of the subjects had vestibular system problems.

The incidence increased with age. For example, about two-thirds of subjects in their seventies had problems.

Other high-risk groups included nonwhites, people with less than high-school education, diabetics and the hearing-impaired.

And what about falling?

People with vestibular system problems were about two-and-a-half times as likely to suffer falls, compared with peers matched for age, race, gender and other factors.

The researchers recommended screening for vestibular system dysfunction, particularly among the elderly and other high-risk groups.

Considering that falls account for more than twenty-billion dollars in costs annually, it seems like a good investment.

And what’s more, keeping people on their feet and healthy isn’t just sensible. It’s priceless.