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Over 90 million people (42% of the United State population) experience feelings of dizziness, vertigo, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this experience becomes a long-term 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 1 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 middle and inner ear, such as vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Ménière’s disease and labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Most of the cases of dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, but these conditions can affect kids as well, with even greater impact because they are often involved with athletics or playground activities in which a sense of balance is key.

There are surgical and drug treatments for these conditions, but 1 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. The VRT exercises are individually prescribed for each patient’s symptoms and complaints, but in general they consist of gait training, eye exercises and head movements designed to reduce symptoms and improve stability. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy 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, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of dizziness or vertigo is due to reactions to medications, migraine headaches, low blood pressure, anxiety or depression 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 vertigo or dizziness 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 can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.

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