People who experience dizziness, balance problems or other instability issues are now being treated with the same technology that helped astronauts find their balance after returning from space. Physical and occupational therapists at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago are using diagnostic technology and machines for patients with disequilibrium, dizziness, orthopedic or head injuries regain their stability.
James Young, MD, director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, says the Rush Balance Assessment and Treatment Program provides a comprehensive, streamlined approach to the diagnosis and treatment of balance disorders.
“It was designed to help physicians assess and manage both patients at risk for falls and those with balance disorders, including the general complaint of dizziness,” Young says. “We also help patient who have been previously proved difficult to diagnose.”
To optimize balance rehabilitation, therapists use computerized dynamic posturography (CDP), an assessment tool to tests patient’s sensory, motor and adaptive functions and identify the balance problem.
“It is a neat and easy test,” says Young. “No wires, gel or cameras are needed. During CDP testing, patients put on a safety harness and stand on a moveable platform, looking forward at a visual field. The physical therapist programs a computer module to shift the platform and the patient’s visual surroundings. The platform measures the vertical forces of the patient’s feet, measuring how they balance under altered conditions. An assessment can be done in less than half an hour.”
Developed for use by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), CDP testing generates a comprehensive report, with treatment protocols individualized for each patient to direct and monitor the plan of care.
Balance disorders may be treated using the state-of-the-art balance master machine says Young. This computerized device that uses visual biofeedback, coupled with sensitive, real-time monitoring of the patient’s movement on a force platform.
One module requires the patients to focus on a dot on the computer screen, and by shifting body weight, move the dot in the box and out of the box. The box continues to move around the screen and the patient continues to shift weight to move the dot in the box. “While it may not sound difficult, those with injuries find it challenging,” Young says. “Mentally, you understand the task, but retraining the body to move a certain way that it’s not used can be frustrating. Even those without severe injuries may find the tasks challenging. Even an ear infection or sinus cold can affect your balance.”
Young says that the most effective balance programs are evidence-based and implement a multidisciplinary team approach, drawing as needed on specialists from otolaryngology, audiology, neurology and rehabilitation specialists at Rush.
Young says other patients who may benefit from the program include those with movement disorders (Parkinson’s, Dystonia, Huntington’s), head injury/concussion or vestibular disorders (vertigo, nausea, blurred vision, hearing disorders).