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Vestibular System Disorders

Falls have been estimated to be the leading cause of serious injury and death in persons older than 65 years. Falls account for 50% of accidental deaths in the elderly, and 10% of falls result in hospitalization. Some estimates state that as many of half of all cases of dizziness are due to vestibular disorders.

The vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution regarding movement and sense of balance. It includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. The vestibular system is responsible for helping to maintain proper head position, and it works closely with the visual system to coordinate head and eye movement and maintain posture and balance. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, vestibular disorders can result.

The most commonly diagnosed vestibular disorders include Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Labyrinthitis or Vestibular Neuritis, Ménière’s disease. There are several other sources of vestibular dysfunction including migraine-associated vertigo and complications from autoimmune disorders and allergies.

Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) is a form of physical therapy that uses specialized exercises that result in gaze and gait stabilization. Most VRT exercises involve head movement, which is essential in stimulating and retraining the vestibular system.

By improving vestibular function and promoting mechanisms of central adaptation and compensation, VRT aims to do the following:

  • Improve balance
  • Minimize falls
  • Decrease subjective sensations of dizziness
  • Improve stability during locomotion
  • Reduce overdependency on visual and somatosensory inputs
  • Improve neuromuscular coordination
  • Decrease anxiety and somatization due to vestibular disorientation

To understand more about vestibular disorders and get answers to commonly asked questions, visit the Vestibular Disorders Association website: www.vestibular.org

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