One in three pensioners suffer from dizziness, often caused by inner ear problems and triggered by something as simple as looking each way to cross the road.
But a study has found that five minutes of simple head movements a day can end the symptoms.
Simply shaking or nodding your head on repeat gets the brain used to movements that normally cause dizziness, thereby preventing falls and depression.
Researchers at Southampton University say the exercises must be followed precisely as directed through a freely available internet programme called Balance Retraining. After six weeks, 40% of dizziness sufferers felt much better or completely well.
The DIY treatment was twice as effective as seeing a family doctor. Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at Southampton, said: “Dizziness is often caused by a change in the inner ear's signals when you are moving or standing still, which confuse the brain. The best analogy is the dizziness and seasickness someone suffers on a boat, where below deck their eyes tell them nothing is moving but their brain says they are moving in every direction. The brain is reprogrammed to understand the changed signals coming from the inner ear.”
The recommended exercises start gently at first, with six basic movements including nodding and shaking with eyes closed, open or fixed on a set point. They can include tailored movements, which sufferers know to make them feel dizzy, as well as relaxation exercises to reduce anxiety.
Researchers assigned 296 patients either regular care from a GP or the Balance Retraining internet course.
The head movements needed to be done typically for only five to 10 minutes a day over six weeks to make a difference.
The exercises were twice as effective as conventional care for adults aged 50 and older. They showed significantly lower levels of dizziness symptoms after three and six months. Paul Little, a GP and professor of primary care research at the University of Southampton, said: “Balance Retraining intervention has huge potential to provide effective and easily accessible treatment for a really under-served patient group.”