Dizziness among older adults: a possible geriatric syndrome

Ann Intern Med. 2000 Mar 7;132(5):337-44. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-132-5-200003070-00002.


Background: In previous studies of dizziness, the prevalence of specific causes has varied widely and either no or multiple causes have been identified. Dizziness might be better considered a geriatric syndrome that results from impairment or disease in multiple systems.

Objective: To determine the predisposing characteristics and situational factors associated with dizziness.

Design: Population-based, cross-sectional study.

Setting: Community.

Participants: Probability sample of 1087 community-living persons in New Haven, Connecticut, who were at least 72 years of age.

Measurements: Episodes of dizziness that occurred for at least 1 month; manifestations of dizziness; and predisposing demographic, medical, neurologic, sensory, and psychological characteristics.

Results: 261 participants (24%) reported dizziness; 56% of dizzy persons described several sensations and 74% reported several triggering activities. The adjusted relative risks for characteristics associated with dizziness were 1.69 (95% CI, 1.24 to 2.30) for anxiety, 1.36 (CI, 1.02 to 1.80) for depressive symptoms, 1.27 (CI, 0.99 to 1.63) for impaired hearing, 1.30 (CI, 1.01 to 1.68) for five or more medications, 1.31 (CI, 0.92 to 1.87) for postural hypotension, 1.34 (CI, 0.95 to 1.90) for impaired balance, and 1.31 (CI, 1.00 to 1.71) for past myocardial infarction. The adjusted relative risk for dizziness was 1.38 (CI, 1.27 to 1.49) for each additional characteristic.

Conclusions: The association among characteristics in multiple domains (cardiovascular, neurologic, sensory, psychological, and medication-related) and dizziness, coupled with the multiplicity of sensations and triggering activities, suggests that dizziness may be a geriatric syndrome, similar to delirium and falling. If so, an impairment reduction strategy, proven effective for other geriatric syndromes, may be effective in reducing the symptoms and disabilities associated with dizziness.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Connecticut / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / complications
  • Dizziness / epidemiology
  • Dizziness / etiology*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Female
  • Hearing Disorders / complications
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / complications
  • Male
  • Myocardial Infarction / complications
  • Postural Balance
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensation Disorders / complications
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Syndrome