BACKGROUND: Complaints of vertigo and dizziness are common in primary care in the aged. They can be caused by distinct vestibular disorders, but can also be a symptom in other conditions like non-vestibular sensory loss, vascular encephalopathy or anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate the specific contribution of vertigo and dizziness to the total burden of disability in aged persons when controlling for the presence of other health conditions. METHODS: Data originate from the MONICA/KORA study, a population-based cohort. Survivors of the original cohorts who were 65 years and older were examined by telephone interview in 2009. Disability was assessed with the Health Assessment Questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to adjust for potential confounders and additive regression to estimate the contribution of vertigo and dizziness to disability prevalence. RESULTS: Adjusted for age, sex and other chronic conditions, vertigo and dizziness were associated with disability (odds ratio 1.66, 95% confidence intervals 1.40-1.98). Both men and women aged between 65 and 79 years were among the strongest contributors to the burden of disability, with a prevalence of 10.5% (6.6-15.1) in men and 9.0% (5.7-13.0) in women. In men, this effect is stable across all age-groups, whereas it decreases with age in women. Conclusions: Vertigo and dizziness independently and relevantly contribute to population-attributable disability in the aged. They are not inevitable consequences of ageing but arise from distinct disease entities. Careful management of vertigo and dizziness might increase population health and reduce disability.