Over 90 million people (42% of the American population) experience feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this encounter becomes a chronic condition. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over seventy five visit a doctor, and for people over sixty five, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number one cause of serious injury and death.
Approximately three-fourths of these cases of dizziness and loss of balance are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders that affect the middle and inner ear, such as Ménière’s disease, labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). All of these conditions affect the inner ear and the delicate system that handles our sense of balance and enables us to maintain control over it. Although most cases of chronic dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, the condition can affect kids suffering from it even more, because they are so active that a lack of balance can prevent them from engaging in sports or other activities.
These conditions can be treated with surgery and drugs, but there is another treatment methodology that uses physical therapy to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system and provide relief – Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT). VRT exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of gait training, eye exercises and head movements designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. The goals of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.
VRT has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms for many people suffering from the conditions mentioned above, and for those with other forms of bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss. The effectiveness of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. It is not as likely to be beneficial if a patient’s symptoms are the result of anxiety or depression, low blood pressure, reactions to medications, migraine headaches or transient ischemic attacks (TIA).
It is difficult to provide a general overview of the VRT exercises because they are individually tuned to and prescribed for each patient. But are all taught by trained VRT therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. Consult a balance specialist if you have experienced dizziness or vertigo for long periods of time, and if an inner ear cause of the problem is indicated, ask for more information about Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy. You may also want to contact the Vestibular Disorders Association and take advantage of many of their short publications and resource materials.