Feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance are more common than most people realize; 42 percent of the United States population (90 million people) experience this at least once during their lifetime, and for many the situation becomes chronic. In the elderly, dizziness is the most common reason that people over 75 visit a doctor, and for people over sixty five, falls resulting from a loss of balance are the number one cause of death and serious injury.
Approximately three-fourths of these cases of dizziness and loss of balance are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders that affect the inner and middle ear, such as labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma and Ménière’s disease. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Although most cases of chronic vertigo and dizziness occur in adults, the condition can affect children 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.
There are surgical and drug treatments for these conditions, but one of the alternative therapies is called Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT), a form of physical therapy that uses specialized sets of movements to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of gait training, head movements and eye exercises designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. VRT cites its goals as seeking to improve balance, decrease the experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when walking or moving, improve coordination, minimize falls, and reduce anxiety.
For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy has often been shown to be effective in reducing their symptoms. Several studies have confirmed VRT’s effectiveness in patients who did not respond to other treatment methodologies. On the other hand, VRT is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of vertigo or dizziness is due to low blood pressure, anxiety or depression, transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or reactions to medications, migraine headaches.
Because the specific exercises in a regimen of VRT vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. 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. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.