Physical therapy interventions for older people with vertigo, dizziness and balance disorders addressing mobility and participation: a systematic review

BMC Geriatr. 2020 Nov 23;20(1):494. doi: 10.1186/s12877-020-01899-9.


Background: Vertigo, dizziness and balance disorders (VDB) are among the most relevant contributors to the burden of disability among older adults living in the community and associated with immobility, limitations of activities of daily living and decreased participation. The aim of this study was to identify the quality of evidence of physical therapy interventions that address mobility and participation in older patients with VDB and to characterize the used primary and secondary outcomes.

Methods: A systematic search via MEDLINE (PubMed), Cochrane Library, CINAHL, PEDro, forward citation tracing and hand search was conducted initially in 11/2017 and updated in 7/2019. We included individual and cluster-randomized controlled trials and trials with quasi-experimental design, published between 2007 and 2017/2019 and including individuals ≥65 years with VDB. Physical therapy and related interventions were reviewed with no restrictions to outcome measurement. Screening of titles, abstracts and full texts, data extraction and critical appraisal was conducted by two independent researchers. The included studies were heterogeneous in terms of interventions and outcome measures. Therefore, a narrative synthesis was conducted.

Results: A total of 20 randomized and 2 non-randomized controlled trials with 1876 patients met the inclusion criteria. The included studies were heterogeneous in terms of complexity of interventions, outcome measures and methodological quality. Vestibular rehabilitation (VR) was examined in twelve studies, computer-assisted VR (CAVR) in five, Tai Chi as VR (TCVR) in three, canal repositioning manoeuvres (CRM) in one and manual therapy (MT) in one study. Mixed effects were found regarding body structure/function and activities/participation. Quality of life and/or falls were assessed, with no differences between groups. VR is with moderate quality of evidence superior to usual care to improve balance, mobility and symptoms.

Conclusion: To treat older individuals with VDB, VR in any variation and in addition to CRMs seems to be effective. High-quality randomized trials need to be conducted to inform clinical decision making.

Trial registration: PROSPERO 2017 CRD42017080291 .

Keywords: Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Dizziness; Mobility limitation; Nervous system diseases; Physical therapy modalities; Postural balance; Social participation; Treatment outcome; Vertigo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dizziness* / diagnosis
  • Dizziness* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Quality of Life
  • Vertigo / diagnosis
  • Vertigo / therapy