Seeking Balance

October 7, 2016| Health and Wellbeing /

Life with a balance disorder can be debilitating. About 20 per cent of working age people will experience problems with balance in their lifetime which could have an effect on their employment, recreational activities, even simple daily life.

The brain controls balance using feedback received from the vestibular system in the inner ear, the eyes and sensors in the joints, muscles and tendons. Infections, head injuries, certain diseases, general aging and even anxiety and stress are just some of the factors that can affect the balance control system, to cause a balance disorder.

Symptoms of a balance disorder include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus (ringing or other noise in the ears)
  • Falls
  • Hearing loss

The implications of balance disorders on people’s lives can be far-reaching.
“People who suffer from a balance disorder often give up doing the things they love to do,” says Specialist Neurologist and Neuro-otologist, Dr David Szmulewicz from the Balance Disorders Clinic at Epworth. “We’ve even had people quit their jobs only to find that the cause of their disorder is treatable or reversible.”

 “We recently looked after a patient who loved to read but because her balance disorder caused her eyes to jump from one line of text to the next,  it this was becoming increasingly difficult. For her, being able to resume this simple pleasure after treatment made the whole process a huge success.”

Getting disorders diagnosed

 “Much of the insight we get into balance disturbance is through eye movement,” says Dr Szmulewicz.

“Various components of the body’s balance mechanisms are involved in directing the eye movements and certain balance disturbances will give signature, abnormal eye movements.”

Dr Szmulewicz and his colleague, Neurologist and Rehabilitation Physician Dr Michael Tan, have been involved, along with a range of other collaborators, in developing tests and equipment that can quickly, accurately and painlessly identify these abnormal eye movements.

“It has been a significant paradigm shift,” says Dr Szmulewicz. “This level of testing was previously either not possible or required hours of complex, vomit inducing tests.”

“The other plus is that now we can generally have a diagnosis, or at least have a good sense of direction, in the first consultation.”

While the majority of balance disorders can be treated relatively simply with lifestyle modifications, medication or help from a balance specialist in fields including physiotherapy, psychology and speech pathology; a small number require surgery.

Getting the diagnosis right is the critical step.

The research strongly shows that tailored treatment is the most successful.
One-size-fits-all treatments may only help around 10 per cent of people whereas if you tailor it you increase the magnitude of your success significantly.
— Dr Michael Tan, Neurologist and Rehabilitation Physician, Epworth HealthCare

The majority of patients who present at clinics like the one at Epworth have what’s known as "Episodical Vertigo" (recurrent episodes of dizziness that don’t get any worse.)
between these episodes most sufferers say their functioning is normal or close to normal.

“Most cases of Episodical Vertigo have an underlying cause our specialists can treat,” says Dr Szmulewicz.

“Constant or progressive balance disorders on the other hand are less common and tend to indicate a neurological condition or an underlying disease requiring more urgent attention.”

“The rehabilitation approach needs to be multi-disciplinary. With a range of vestibular and neurological physiotherapists on staff along with occupational therapists, psychologists, neuropsychologists and speech therapists all contributing to holistic treatment.”

“My analogy is that it’s a little bit like a racing car coming in to the pit crew. A team of specialists each make their assessments and then meet as a group to form an optimal treatment plan.”

Find out more about Epworth HealthCare's Vestibular rehabilitation program here.



Epworth

Join the conversation on The Village



December 10, 2018| Epworth News/

Hospital's Towering Addition

Demolition has started to make way for a 14-storey tower to be built next to the main part of the hospital to house an emergency department and a traditional Chinese medicine department.

December 6, 2018| Our Community/

Barb and Her Handmade Goodies

Barb Heskey formed the first Friends of Freemasons Auxiliary in 2013 to raise funds from the Freemasons hospital. Since then she has raised over $17,000 which has gone a long way to improve the maternity unit at Epworth Freemasons.

December 4, 2018| Epworth News/

Extra Special Christmas Lunch for Cardiac Patients

The 2018 HeartSmart Christmas Lunch at Leonda on the Yarra was extra special with Tour de France cyclist, Matt Keenan acting as MC and a family sharing their personal story of a 'chain of survival'.

December 2, 2018| Health and Wellbeing/

Tips to Stay Safe at Festivals This Summer

Summer not only marks the return of great weather, long nights and stunning beach days in Victoria—it’s also festival season. Music, art, culture and food abound as a range of festivals kick off around the state. To help you have a safe and productive festival season this year, follow these tips.

December 1, 2018| Our Community/

Marvellous Swimming Spots Within Cooee of Melbourne

How good is it to feel childlike joy when plunging into the water on a sunny day? Such a simple pleasure brings deep happiness – a rare treat for those of us wrangling life’s daily chores. Add a few waves and a friend or two, and we can feel something close to bliss.

In a bid to shake ourselves out of a rut of responsibility, we hereby present Melbourne’s coolest swimming spots!