Dizzy Days: Meds and vertigo in elders

20. My uncle has severe chronic vertigo, and the doctors don’t know what’s causing it. Have any ideas?

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Is he taking any prescription medications? If so, find out what the potential side effects are. Don’t take a doctor’s word for it that any drug has no side effects or is harmless. Many of them don’t know—they’re not pharmacists, after all—and often if they do know, they won’t tell you because they want to persuade you to stay on the medication no matter how sick it makes you. Look it up yourself. You can find out by looking up the drug on the manufacturer’s website: this will list all the potential side effects.

My stepmother had vertigo and eventually developed cognitive problems so severe she was checked into a nursing home. My step-sister, who definitely is smarter than the average snail, then got into mom’s bathroom medicine cabinet and discovered a cache of Rx medications going back forever. She discovered that the doctor had made NO RECORD of the meds he was giving the old lady.

Elderly people are especially sensitive to OTC and Rx medications, because we do not metabolize drugs as fast as younger people do. Hence drugs that may have no malign effect on people in, say, their 30s or 40s can make an older person very sick, indeed.

When my stepsister raised Hell and put a block under it, the nursing home staff took mom off all the drugs—including one that, it turned out, was addictive(!). Within a week or two, the old dgal was back to normal and happily back in her apartment.