Submitted by Alicia DeRuscio, B.S.
Community Education Assistant
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy
Did you know that roughly 69 million Americans age 40 or older are affected by vestibular or inner ear dysfunction? According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), 40% of Americans suffer from dizziness or balance problems due to inner ear disorders. Depending on the type of disorder, dizziness and balance problems may be improved through vestibular rehabilitation therapy.
What Is Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy?
The Vestibular Disorders Association defines vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT), as a specialized form of therapy aimed at relieving both primary and secondary problems that result from inner ear disorders and diminish a person’s quality of life. People with vestibular problems often experience dizziness or vertigo, trouble with vision, and balance problems that are usually worse with movement.
As a result, many people limit their activity and adopt sedentary lifestyles to avoid triggering such problems. This can lead to further health concerns including decreased muscle strength, poor cardiovascular fitness and other chronic conditions. VRT can aid in combatting these secondary problems, too.
Types Of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy
VRT is an exercise–based program that allows patients to adapt to inner ear disturbances by using other senses, such as vision and somatosensory or body sense, to compensate. Exercise plans are customized to fit each patient, depending on the type of vestibular problem and the symptoms that occur. The three main types of VRT include habituation exercises, gaze stabilization and balance training.
Habituation is used to treat people who experience dizziness from motion or visual stimuli in the environment. Through repeated exposure to certain movements or stimuli, the brain learns to ignore signals from the inner ear that cause the dizziness. Over time, continued VRT helps reduce feelings of dizziness.
Gaze stabilization is used for people who have trouble seeing clearly and often feel as if their vision bounces around. In gaze stabilization, a person fixates their vision on an object and then moves their head around in different directions while keeping the object in sight.
The last form of VRT, balance training, helps to improve balance and steadiness to aid in performing daily activities such as cooking meals or taking a shower. Balance training incorporates different body positioning and movements, as well as visual cues to improve standing, bending, reaching, turning and walking. After establishing an exercise regimen specific to fit your needs, your audiologist or VRT therapist will also determine an exercise regimen to continue at home.
There are many factors that can affect a person’s recovery during vestibular rehab therapy. According to the Vestibular Disorders Association, factors include:
- The type of vestibular disorder, such as whether it affects one ear or both ears.
- A sedentary lifestyle which can cause other health problems.
- Pain which contributes to limited activity, as well as overall imbalance and an increased risk for falls.
- Medications that may cause side effects including dizziness, weakness, muscle fatigue and sedation.
- Emotional concerns such as anxiety or depression which affect a person’s ability to manage their symptoms.
Vestibular dysfunction can affect a person both physically and mentally. Taking steps to manage symptoms to better cope with the disorder will help you stay independent and improve your quality of life.
If you would like to learn more about VRT, attend a special program entitled ‘Exercise Your Ears’ presented by Dr. Mark Caffrey, Audiologist of Littauer’s Primary/Specialty Care Services, on November 13 in Littauer’s Auditorium.
You are invited to join us for a buffet-style luncheon at 11:30 for $6 or attend the presentation only at 12 noon at no charge. To attend the luncheon, call HealthLink Littauer at 518-736-1120 or email email@example.com by November 11. We’re your community health & wellness service of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home.