Vestibular disorders have several causes and their symptoms may manifest either on a temporary or recurring basis. Symptoms of vestibular disorders are commonly loss of balance and repeated incidents of falling; prolonged or frequent dizziness; trouble walking in the dark; and functional difficulty following riding in a vehicle. The most common causes of these disorders are otitis and labyrinthitis (ear infections and inflammations), cranial traumas, acoustic neuromas, Meniere’s disease (fluid retention in the inner ear), and paroxysmal positional vertigo. In seniors, dizziness is most often attributed to presbyastasis, an impairment of vestibular function due to aging, and it can have devastating consequences if these patients are not given therapeutic remedies to prevent loss of balance. Falls account for about 50% of all accidental deaths in this population.
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) administered by qualified PTs teaches clients to handle everyday activities requiring balance, and for the most part involves retraining of patients’ eyes, ears and brain. Until recently, the core of VRT centered on the Cawthorne-Cooksey exercises developed in the 1950’s. But exciting developments and new trends in this field are enhancing the effectiveness of treatment for both the patient and the professional. PTs are in the unique position to advance cutting edge research in VRT through documentation of their treatment of actual patients, and then sharing their findings with healthcare professionals and technologists studying and working in the field.
According to Drs. Michael Schubert and Susan Whitney in an article published in the “Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy”, we should expect many more exciting and innovative technological inventions, such as the “balance vest” invented by researchers at UCLA’s Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology (CASIT). This vest provides vibro-tactile feedback to its wearers through tiny pneumatic balloons, alerting them to imbalances and helping to correct them. Other noteworthy developments anticipated are vestibular prostheses or implants; restoration of vestibular function using stem cells; and computerized techniques for gaze stability, the restoration of steady vision even as patients move their heads. Studies have shown that the restoration of gaze stability through exercise and other techniques can greatly reduce the risk of falling in older adults.
One of the technologies available right now for PTs performing VRT, is an app for the iPhone or iPad. TinettiX can be used to predict falls in older patients, which makes it an invaluable pocket tool in this field. The app, which objectively measures functional mobility, is HIPPA compliant, easily administered and useful in the formulation of treatment plans. We encourage PTs in this field to take advantage of this convenient and beneficial tool and others like it.
If you are a PT working with senior populations, vestibular disorders or other specializations, Centra can help you find new and stimulating opportunities to showcase your talents. Call us at 800 535 0076 or contact us to find out more.