Some loss of balance as you age is to be expected, but balance issues don’t have to be a fact of life, say the vestibular therapists at the U-M Vestibular Testing Center, part of the Vertigo & Balance Disorders program in the Department of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery.
Sept. 12 through 18 is Balance Awareness Week, and vestibular certified physical therapists Wendy Carender, PT, NCS, and Melissa Grzesiak, PT, DPT recommend people see their doctor if balance or vertigo is getting in the way of their regular life. Many physicians will then refer patients to the physical therapists and audiologists at the Vestibular Testing Center for evaluation and treatment.
“I personally used to go in and see Wendy very often, so much that I suggested they set up an office for me there. I was a regular pest,” said Harold Johnson, 89, who dealt with a variety of balance and vertigo issues as he aged, in addition to a history of Meniere’s disease and a cochlear implant.
Carender educated Johnson in specific exercises to reduce his dizziness and improve his balance and sent him home with a customized home exercise program. He finds his balance has improved so much that he rarely requires a visit anymore.
“The majority of our patients with dizziness and balance disorders benefit from an individualized home exercise program,” Carender said. “We’re teaching them to move through the dizziness in order to desensitize and decrease symptoms while promoting return to functional activity.”
The therapists see most patients one to three times initially, and then train them to incorporate their customized home exercise program into their daily lives. The Vestibular Testing Center offers comprehensive testing including audiological and vestibular testing, vestibular physical therapy evaluation and treatment, and Otolaryngology consultation.
Johnson now spends 30 minutes each day on a step machine and 15 minutes per day on the treadmill to strengthen his legs. He also takes classes three days per week that teach exercises to improve one’s balance.
In the three years since Johnson started experiencing vestibular issues, the Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus, School of Social Work, and Professor Emeritus of Health Education and Health Behavior, School of Public Health, says he’s started driving again and feels more comfortable with daily activities like walking around the house or getting dressed.
“Dizziness is not normal,” Grzesiak said. “It’s important to stay active. However we find that people who are dealing with symptoms of dizziness and/or imbalance often avoid movement, which can actually make their symptoms worse. That leads to increased anxiety, inactivity and fear of falling.”
Grzesiak says the goals of vestibular therapy are to help patients manage their symptoms and improve their balance, allowing them to return to their daily activities and, most importantly, prevent falls.
“Fall prevention is so important. All it takes is one fall to begin a downward spiral of other health issues,” she said. “Our goal as physical therapists is to help you safely and confidently return to the activities that you enjoy!”
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