Is vertigo common in Alzheimer's patients?

3 answers | Last updated: Oct 05, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimers for about 9 years now - I have been her caregiver for about 7 years. She lives right across the street from my own home - I just about live at both places! Last year at this time she was diagnosed with vertigo - she was feeling lightheaded last week and sure enough it was vertigo again - its not very severe, but it does seem to wear on her. She has done exceptionally well with her alzheimers but the vertigo just seems to wipe her out - is it common to suffer from vertigo with alzheimers? She is 81 and her doctor put her on Flonase in case its caused by allergies.

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

I have not heard of vertigo as a symptom of Alzheimer's disease(AD). The AD folks I have known, who have shown signs of lighthead or dizziness, have found answers in further medical workups which revealed such treatable issues as inner ear infection or wax buildup, allergies, visual changes, metabolic disturbances such as high blood pressure, and environmental causes. This latter may be of great importance in finding the appropriate way to deal with this uncomfortable symptom. For instance, shiny floors, glass coverings on pictures, sounds or smells in the area around her, shadows cast by household furnishings or from outside a window are some of the environmental issues that professional and trained caregivers often assess when vertigo arises. Since the senses seem to be affected by Alzheimer's, it is not uncommon for AD folk to have difficulty functioning in a space that may not be Alzheimer-friendly. If you can find the environmental culprit, including the time of day and room or area where it occurs, you may be able to change the instances of dizziness by addressing necessary changes in the environment.

Occasionally, the AD person is not able to correctly articulate where or what physical changes may be happening and that compounds finding the proper treatments. My husband, while in the mid-stage of a dementing illness, once complained for hours about a headache. In fact, he had a stomach ulcer and his head was not affected at all. Even though he was clearly telling me of severe discomfort, his inability to relate the place of his pain was a result of the neurological disease.

Above all else, do keep the physician appraised of your mother's problem and do take care of YOU!

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have seen many patients as a Vestibular Audiologist who have vertigo and balance issues who also happen to have Alzheimers. Evaluation of vertigo and balance issues is very important - while changes in the brain can account for neurological causes of vertigo, often the problem is a correctable problem in the peripheral vestibular system. For example, in the general population, people that have an easily treated condition called BPPV that causes vertigo see an average of 5 doctors or specialists and suffer sometimes for years before they get the correct help-often corrected in 1 office visit! So while the onset of vertigo necessitates ruling out something more serious like a stroke, there are a lot of more things to be explored too. Ideally, see a balance team - physician (ENT but with a special interest in balance function-hard to find!) audiologist and physical therapist.

Cathye answered...

When my mother complained of dizziness her doctor put her on Alzheimer's medication. She has gone several years without complaining of the dizziness until just recently. The dizziness came back following a bacterial lung infection. She is 80 years old and is declining. The dizziness is very frustrating to her.