Like 90 million other Americans, Donna Fisk used to suffer from dizziness and vertigo. For seven years, she felt like things were moving around her. She often felt like she was falling. As her symptoms worsened, she had nausea and vomiting.
“There were time periods I wasn’t able to function,” said Fisk. “I missed work and would stay in bed.”
Her symptoms were just some of those experienced by patients with vestibular disorders. Other patients have headaches, muscle aches, sensitivity to light and sound and fatigue. For many, particularly the elderly, balance problems can lead to debilitating falls.
The vestibular system controls balance. Normally, a person’s touch, sight and inner ear motion sensors work together with the brain to keep the person balanced. But, when one or more of those senses aren’t functioning properly, that sense of balance is thrown off. The person could experience a sense of falling when they’re not, or feel like they’re balanced, when they’re not.
Because the vestibular system interacts with so many other systems in the body, identifying the exact cause of the balance problems can be difficult. At New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Oleander Rehabilitation Center, specially trained staff use a variety of methods to assess patients, including an advanced program called the Smart Balance System.
The system helps determine how much a patient can do and where balance problems exist. The information helps the physician pinpoint whether the problem has to do with the eyes, ears, sense of touch, or brain. Once the cause of the balance disorder is determined, computerized biofeedback technology provides patients with interactive, motivating and goal-directed exercises that can help with recovery.
Fisk said the therapy helped her get back to her job and life. She’s able to walk without a cane, drive, read and garden again.
“I’m not completely free of the vertigo, but I know how to adjust to it now,” said Fisk. “The program really helped me. It has given me more stability and confidence and I have less fatigue than I have had in years. Therapy made me stronger all over.”
To find out more about vestibular rehab or to schedule an appointment, call 452-8104.Vestibular Facts
90 million Americans will complain of dizziness to their doctors
The majority of those over 70 years old report problems of dizziness and imbalance
Balance-related falls account for more than half of accidental deaths in the elderly
Source: National Institute of Health