Narrator: Balance disorders can have a serious impact on a person's life. There are many types of balance disorders.
Ménière's disease causes a person to experience vertigo, hearing loss that comes and goes, tinnitus, which is a ringing or roaring in the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It affects adults of any age.
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear caused by an infection. The balance disorder that most often affects older adults, however, is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV.
Man: This disease brought me to my knees. I've prayed and I prayed -- I've cried. I just -- I've daydreamed about going somewhere and finding somebody that would fix you up. It's that devastating. It's just... I don't know.
Peter Zee, M.D.: Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo -- usually patients get dizzy when they turn over in bed or get out of bed and can't walk for a few seconds or 10 or 15 seconds -- is due to some small calcium stones, microscopic in size, that are floating around in the inner ear.
We all have these little calcium stones in our inner ear, but they're usually in just one place -- a part of the inner organ called the otolith.
But if they should become loose, for whatever reason -- just naturally or after a mild head injury, they could become loose and start floating around and if they get stuck in one of the other inner-ear organs then they cause vertigo whenever you tilt your head and the way we treat this problem is to do a physical-therapy maneuver, where we move the patient's head around in such a way that we can actually get the stones to pop out.
It's like playing a pinball machine and tilting the table to get that little ball into the hole. The patient then sits up for about 20 minutes without moving their head and then in maybe 70 or 80 percent of the patients the problem is cured.
Narrator: Another treatment used for balance disorders is physical therapy. A physical therapist may take you through habituation exercises. These repetitive motions may first trigger symptoms but over time you will adapt. Making changes in your everyday environment can also help with a balance disorder by reducing the risk of falls.
A.Julianna Gulya, M.D.: Well, there are generally two sets of things individuals can do -- older individuals in particular, to help themselves keep from falling. One set consists of changes they can make in their environment. The other set are changes they can make for themselves.
The basic things are lighting -- night lights, for instance, since part of the balance system and part of maintaining your balance relies on visual cues. It makes sense to have things well-lit so you can see where you are.
Hand-holds -- they don't have to be formal handrails everywhere, but something that's kind of strategically located. Don't have free, loose rugs lying around. You want to make sure that whatever carpeting there is, is firmly fixed to the floor.
The last thing you need is something you're going to slip on. Again, with carpeting, thick-pile carpeting makes it much more difficult for the muscle and joint receptors to figure out where they are, so you want to have short-pile carpeting.
And now, moving on to things that you can do to change yourself, the most important thing is exercise and conditioning. That's -- I mean, we don't expect you to go running out, doing jumping jacks -- it's not that kind of thing. But gentle, slow range of motion, gentle strength training, toning, all those kinds of things can really help to make an individual more able to make that corrective move if they start to fall.
Narrator: Overcoming a balance disorder may take some time.
Woman: I was gradually -- it wasn't a fast process, but it was a slow process, that I gradually gained my strength back and my balance. My hearing is better and my sight -- I can read! Everything was blurred before, but I can read now and even the fine prints and I'm so grateful for that. And I can drive, which I didn't drive for six months.
Narrator: When you find a treatment or treatments that work, you can regain your sense of balance as well as your peace of mind.
Woman: It's been two years, maybe three years now. And I haven't had any vertigos. Nothing is moving and that's great. And that is the holy gospel.
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