68 year old Kyle Harrison was once so afraid of falling that he stopped driving and golfing with his friends. Kyle’s falls were the result of balance issues which began after a trip to Florida. His audiologist recommended vestibular rehabilitation therapy which uses specialized exercises under the guidance of a physiotherapist to improve gaze and stabilization during walking.
What is Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy?
Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) is a program designed to promote central nervous system compensation for inner ear deficits. Vestibular lesions can be extremely debilitating by producing symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, postural instability and gait disturbances which may result in a fall. VRT can help with a variety of vestibular problems. VRT takes a look at all the aspects of balance – it looks at the vision aspect, the vestibular aspect (inner ear) and the sensory aspect. It is important to note, VRT does not actually involve a regeneration or treatment of the damaged vestibular organ itself. Instead, VRT works by allowing the brain and the central nervous system to adapt to opposing feedback coming from the vestibular mechanisms.
Why is VRT Needed?
Disease or injury can damage the vestibular organs resulting in the brain not being able to obtain accurate information about balance and motion, which can relate to symptoms of dizziness, imbalance, vertigo, double vision, and other symptoms. For many people their brain can adapt (a process called vestibular compensation) and they are able to recover from these symptoms on their own. Sometimes the vestibular compensation process is not successful. The big red flag for somebody that needs some vestibular therapy is someone that is falling, or experiencing spinning or dizziness or feels like there are objects that are moving that aren’t really moving around them.
The goal of VRT is to retrain the brain to recognize and process signals from the vestibular system in coordination with vision (eyes) and proprioception (muscles and joints).
What Happens During VRT
Our qualified Occupational Therapist (OT) will perform a thorough evaluation by observing and measuring posture, balance and gait, and compensatory strategies. The assessment also includes head/eye coordination tests (with or without head movement). The OT will also use other assessment tools such as lifestyle and symptom questionnaires.
Using the evaluation results, the therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan that includes specific head, body, and eye exercises to be performed both in the therapy setting and at home. These exercises are designed to retrain the brain to recognize and process signals from the vestibular system and coordinate them with information from vision and proprioception.