Image of an older women with walker in long-term care setting interacting with healthcare provider

Older adults who experience a common form of vertigo are just as likely as younger adults to benefit from a specialized treatment for the condition, a new study finds.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a major factor in disability for adults aged 65 and older. The odds of experiencing the condition increase with age, and the resulting intense dizziness may in turn contribute to falls.

BPPV can be corrected up to 80% of the time with canalith repositioning procedures. These are simple office treatments that may help to reposition tiny particles in the ear, resolving the dizziness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The condition can be more disabling and have different manifestations in older age groups. In the current study, investigators sought to compare treatment effectiveness and recurrence rates in older adults when compared to younger adults with BPPV. To do so, they performed a meta-analysis of 16 qualified studies of the procedure.

Researchers found that the success rate of a single canalith repositioning procedure was higher in younger patients. Older patients required an average of 1.5 procedures for complete recovery, whereas younger patients required 1.4 procedures, reported Gwen Laurent, MBS, and Luc Vereeck, Ph.D., of Hasselt University, in Belgium. 

There also is a risk of recurrence with treated BPPV, however, and older study participants did have a higher recurrence rate — at 23% when compared with 18% in the younger group, the researchers found. 

But there was no difference in overall treatment success between the groups, Laurent and Vereek added. 

“Although more canalith repositioning procedures are needed, the rate of complete recovery in older adults is similar to that observed in younger adults,” they concluded.

Canalith repositioning procedures involve a series of head movements that change the location of tiny stone-like calcium crystals in the ear that help with balance. These can become dislodged from their normal placement in the ear and trigger a dizzy feeling when patients move their head or change position.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.