Woman: At one point when it hit me so bad, I sat down and I cried. I said, "Dear Lord, I don't want to live like this. I can't live like this. Something must be done, or either let me die."
Dr. David Zee: Loss of your sense of orientation, which is what happens when you're dizzy, is an extremely frightening circumstance for oneself and especially when it's chronic -- that is, it occurs over years, or when it's unpredictable.
Narrator: Have you ever felt dizzy or as if the room were spinning around you? If the feeling happens often, it could be a sign of a balance problem. Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor.
A. Julianna Gulya, M.D.: A very important reason for difficulty with balance is medication that people tend to take as they get older -- in particular, sedatives, in particular, anti-hypertensives, or blood pressure drugs.
For instance, with a high blood pressure drug, some of them cause you to feel light-headed or dizzy when you stand up suddenly. So that, again, that gives you a light-headed, dizzy feeling and that can make you have difficulties with your balance,even though it's not an inner-ear problem.
Narrator: Although balance problems affect a number of older adults, sometimes it takes a while to get a clear diagnosis.
Woman: Yes, getting a diagnosis was -- Really took a long time. It probably took about 3 years really to get a solid diagnosis from somebody.
Dr. David Zee: One of the problems that patients have in getting a diagnosis is because it's so hard to explain exactly what one means by dizziness. Dizziness to some people can mean "about to faint" or "lightheadedness." To other people, it could mean only a severe spinning sensation. To other people, it could mean a sense of imbalance.
Narrator: Balance problems can be caused by problems in the part of the inner ear called the labyrinth. When the labyrinth becomes infected or swollen it can cause dizziness. This condition is called labyrinthitis. Some balance-related problems result from changes in the volume of fluid in the inner ear. Ménière's disease affects adults of any age. It can sometimes be managed by diet.
A.Julianna Gulya, M.D.: Well, Ménière's disease is thought to result from the over-accumulation of fluid in the inner ear, so treatment -- first line treatment, at any rate, is aimed towards reducing that fluid overload. And one way that one tries to reduce that fluid overload is by reducing the amount of salt or sodium chloride one eats on a regular basis because salt makes you retain fluids.
The sodium content of foods is something that is included in the nutritional labeling and you probably will be quite surprised when you look at the sodium content of many common foods -- in particular, processed foods, such a canned soups, frozen TV dinners -- have quite a high sodium content.
Another treatment approach to try and reduce the fluids involves diuretics, that is, fluid pills, to make one get rid of the fluid.
Narrator: The balance disorder that most commonly affects older adults is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV.
Woman: You can have where you get up -- I initially didn't have this, but then it can be that where when you get up from a horizontal position and all the sudden the room goes, "whoosh" like that and when you change the position again -- from standing back to horizontal, the broom goes "whoosh" like that and you feel like you just have to hold on because you're sinking into something.
Narrator: With BPPV, you may experience a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when you change the position of your head. Balance problems can be treated. If you have a balance problem, it is important that you see your doctor as soon as possible.
Woman: Persevere -- it takes perseverance and not -- I'm not one that gives up very easily, so my friends say, "You're a fighter," and that's what it takes -- you need to fight it.