Living with a Balance and Dizziness Disorder
Balance and dizziness disorders may not be life threatening, but they most certainly are life-style threatening.
This page lists a variety of coping strategies, selected from suggestions made by our speakers and members, that might help you better handle everyday challenges. Browse by topic:
Coping with your daily routine:
- Avoid aggravating factors – learn to prevent your symptoms or triggers from happening.
- Set a goal to do something mindfully every day and savour the moment, doing one thing at a time. For example, if you usually eat dinner with the TV on, turn the TV off, light a candle, enjoy the smell, flavour, and texture of your food. Be in that moment.
- Ask yourself throughout the day, “Where is my attention?” Where your attention goes, energy flows. Use your senses more acutely.
- Make healthy choices, and avoid unhealthy choices.
- Work within your physical and emotional energy budget. Ask yourself, “Do I have the time, energy and concentration to complete this task?”
- Be careful of the crash and burn cycle. If you are having a good day, be sure not to deplete your energy tank and pay for it for days. Save a little energy for the next day.
- Slowly and gently deal with what life throws at you.
- Be “healthily selfish”: Learn to say no or ask for help.
- “I use a bookstand when reading – it keeps my eyes steady and looking straight ahead.”
- “I wash my own hair in the shower – tipping my head back at the hair salon makes me dizzy.”
- “I tell myself to slow down. When I get out of bed or get up from a chair, I stop. This helps my body adjust to the new position and maintain balance.”
- “Regardless of how bad I feel I always get out of bed, get dressed and keep to as normal a day as possible. I feel more in control and it is a good time to practice meditation and deep-breathing exercises.”
Managing your time:
- Learn how to prioritize and organize your day or week around your energy levels.
- “I do shopping and arrange for medical and other appointments when I have the most energy. When my energy levels are low, I plan activities at home.”
Keeping track of symptoms:
- Draw your impressions of your dizziness – this may help explain your symptoms to a professional.
- “I keep track of how my dizziness is working by maintaining a dizzy diary.”
- “I keep a record of the patterns to my dizziness. I have learned that it is related to the idiosyncrasies of the weather. During the time that the barometer is rising or falling my dizziness is at its worst. Fall and winter are worse than spring and summer.”
- Have meals at regular times and stay-well hydrated – this seems to help most people with balance and dizziness issues.
- There is some evidence that a lower sodium diet can help with some vestibular disorders.
- Pay attention to food labels – remember to note the amount of sodium by serving size to determine how much of a given food might be suitable.
- Watch your intake of prepared foods – they are one of the biggest hidden sources of sodium.
- Managing your sugar intake can have a positive impact on managing balance and dizziness disorders.
- Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12; a deficiency can impact your balance.
- Talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplements; there is a strong correlation between vitamin D deficiency and falling.
- Don’t take large doses of a single supplement just because you’ve heard that it’s good for you. You could reach a toxic level quite quickly.
- Too much vitamin A can cause dizziness and balance problems.
- Preserve your muscle mass by eating enough protein. The current recommendation is 1.15 grams daily per kilo of body weight.
- Eat a wide variety of whole foods to increase nutrient and phytochemical (e.g., antioxidants) density.
- Some people are unable to tolerate caffeine and alcohol, especially if they have migraine-triggered vertigo.
- Ginger can help with nausea.
Improving your sleep habits:
- Avoid evening naps.
- Avoid television viewing just before bedtime.
- If you need to get up frequently at night to use the bathroom, work with your physician. Try pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises.
- Learn strategies to fall back to sleep quickly. For example, don’t look at the clock.
- Keep your bedroom at the right temperature.
- Orient your bed for quick and easy access to the toilet and wear uncomplicated nightclothes.
- There are alternatives to medications. Create a routine for sleeping. If you cannot sleep, try relaxation exercises or reading.
- Restless leg syndrome sufferers may need medication to help control the symptoms.
- Download relaxation sounds to run while you sleep may help.
- Place a baggie filled with ice and cold water on the bridge of your nose. This can promote sleep – your mind is calmed down as you focus solely on getting warm.
- Use heat as an alternative to ice – the same principle applies. At bedtime, take a hot bath or shower, sauna or use a heating pad.
Navigating around your home:
- If your symptoms are worse in the dark, use a night-light and be mindful when turning lights off as you walk to your bedroom.
- Keep spaces clear so you don’t bump into or trip over things in the dark.
- Slide your finger along the wall for extra proprioception.
Choosing the right shoes:
- Choose the right footwear to complement your foot type to help correct for abnormal pronation (flat feet or high arches) and mechanics.
- Orthotics can help reduce the extra stress on your bones and muscles that comes from having flat feet or high arches.
- Look for shoes with the correct flex point. Feet bend the most at the balls of the feet; this is where shoes should flex when you bend them.
- Wear shoes suitable for your chosen activity. Don’t wear dress shoes to walk your dog, for example.
- If you walk mainly on hills or grass, consider a trail shoe with good tread and grip.
- Choose the appropriate closure (laces, Velcro or slip-on) to make sure your shoes are secure on your feet; shoes that are too loose or sloppy are a tripping hazard.
- Be aware of shoes that are too soft – they may not have the right amount of torsional stability (ability to withstand twisting) to suit your specific needs.
- Firm soles make you feel less disconnected from the ground and are usually a better choice than soft soles.
Read more: Effects of Footwear on Gait and Balance
Going for a walk:
- Wearing white when walking at night doesn’t make you more visible to drivers – wear clothing and accessories with reflective strips to considerably improve your chance of being seen.
- “I sing to myself as I walk – paying attention to the words keeps my mind off how lousy I feel!”
- “I make very definite steps as I walk – heel, toe, heel, toe.”
- “I walk with my feet just a bit wider apart for more stability.”
- “I always use a walking pole, as I never know when I’ll run into trouble. I recommend poles from Urban Poling in North Vancouver – they are designed by an occupational therapist and come with different tips to suit your walking speed.”
- “When stopped, I lean on my walking pole with my elbow – I extend my forearm up so my hand touches my face. This helps me feel much more grounded, particularly when there’s a lot of motion around me."
- “Sometimes I use a walker – this way I always have a safe and convenient place to sit down.”
- “Walking is a simple matter of adjusting from one position to the next. Being more deliberate slows me down and helps me concentrate on my balance.”
- On a bus, try to sit near the front or where you can see outside.
- In a car, avoid the back seat.
- On a plane, planning ahead is often a major part of success. Pack well ahead and get a good sleep the night before.
- Schedule daytime flights if possible and keep well hydrated.
- Sit near a window and look outside during take-off and landing. When you can both see and feel the movement, your vestibular and visual systems will be more likely to agree with each other.
- “I always travel as a disabled person. I use the golf cart/wheel chair service to get to the plane. I also try to get the aisle seat closest to the centre of the plane so I do not feel the occasional pitch and yaw of plane movement.”
- Improve your proprioception through activities including a wide variety of balance exercises, rubbing your feet or stretching tight calf muscles.
- Pay attention to the joints that cause you problems.
- Instead of using a firm pillow to keep your head immobile while sleeping, do some type of exercise – such as tai chi – that involves gentle head movement; over time, you’ll be able to move your head more freely without feeling dizzy.
- Minimize the risk of breaking your hip by keeping active, maintaining muscle bulk, keeping calcium levels high and getting checked for osteoporosis – men as well. If your bones are weaker they break more easily.
- Try to do some balance training every day. It can be done anywhere in short spurts – a training effect builds up the more you practice, even just for a few seconds at a time,
- Practice balancing throughout the day. When making a cup of tea or waiting for the elevator, stand in tandem (one foot in front of the other) or stand on one leg.
- Tai chi gives your balance a wonderful gentle workout.
- Community-based programs for older adults, such as Steadyfeet®, have a strong focus on balance training.
- Strength training with weights and machines, even in small amounts, leads to significant functional gains for older adults.
- Power training helps you move more quickly – it is an extremely important fall prevention tool.
Note: Don’t try any new medication without first talking with your doctor.
- When you take any medication or supplement, consult with a pharmacist to find out which ones interact with non-dizziness drugs. All medications and supplements interact with each other and can cause some to diminish their effectiveness or cause dangerous side effects, especially if you have heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Gravol can help with nausea. Gravol suppositories can be used for very bad vertigo attacks, but will cause drowsiness.
- Taking anti-depressants won’t clear your disorder, but if they help you cope with it better, everyone’s better, including your spouse or partner. At least consider giving them a try.
- There is no medication that can help with BPPV or visually-stimulated vertigo.
- Certain classes of medication can help with Ménière’s disease.
- Migrainous vertigo can sometimes be helped by anti-depressants.
Planning ahead for a Ménière’s attack:
- Ménière’s attacks can be quite long. Have a strategy for extended support. Share your preferred plan for care with friends, relative and employers.
- Have supplies available. These might include a fleece blanket, a thin pillow, a yoga mat, kidney-shaped trays to capture vomited matter, a cup of water and “bendy” straws, and a face cloth.