Geriatric Gait Instability and Falls

Vestibular Balance Disorder

Balance disorders can strike at any age but are most common as people get older. Dizziness and vertigo are classic symptoms of a vestibular balance disorder.

Common causes of vestibular balance disorders include:

  • Medications
  • Infections
  • Inner ear problems, such as those related to poor circulation in the ear
  • Problems rooted in the brain, such as traumatic brain injury

Symptoms of a vestibular balance disorder include:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling off-balance
  • Feeling as if you are floating or as if the world is spinning around you
  • Blurred vision
  • Disorientation
  • Falling or stumbling

Less common symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety, fear, and changes in your heart's rhythm.

When to call a doctor

Feeling lightheaded or dizzy occasionally happens to most people. If these sensations are frequent and affect your quality of life, contact your doctor.


As you age, your risk for falling increases. According to the CDC, more than one-third of people ages 65 and older and half of those ages 75 and older fall each year. Although most falls cause only minor injuries, the CDC estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of the people who fall experience moderate to severe injuries (such as bone fractures) that severely limit independence. The risk is even greater for people who have fallen within the past year.

People who are at higher risk for falls include:

  • Older women
  • People with the following conditions:

The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk for falls.

Older age increases the risk for falling because:

  • Your senses dim
  • Your nervous system begins to deteriorate
  • You can't see as well
  • The balance mechanism in your ears becomes less accurate
  • Heart disease, diabetes, and thyroid conditions can affect your sense of balance
  • Many older adults are less active than they were when younger. This sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle weakness, which also can lead to falls

An older person with osteoporosis who falls is more likely to fracture a bone. Even a minor fall can cause a bone to break.

For information about the geriatric services provided at Des Peres Hospital, or to find a physician, 
please fill out our form or call (877) 693-8165.