New Balance Equipment at Mercy Helps Prevent Falls

May 8, 2014

Have you ever suddenly lost your balance or become dizzy for no apparent reason? It’s common for many people 65 and older, but it doesn’t have to be.

“I’ve had a hearing problem for the last 20 years and it’s affected my balance,” said Cheri Frankel, 71, of Springfield. “In the last year, it became bad enough that I had to use a cane part of the time and my family was talking to me about using a walker – at least around the house.” Frankel was clipping her shoulders on walls and furniture. “They were even afraid my dog was going to run into me.”

Frankel’s path soon became clearer as Mercy’s team of experts determined inner ear issues were affecting her balance, and they had a unique assessment tool for her to try. Mercy Outpatient Physical Therapy had recently added Computerized Dynamic Posturography (CDP) that ended up being a game changer for Frankel.

“Posturography is a machine that identifies a patient’s balance impairments, whether it’s with their sensory system or their motor system,” said Mercy physical therapist Erin Duck. “Patients wear a safety harness and stand on a special platform that challenges their response.” The device uses a variety of controlled visual and surface conditions, allowing physical therapists and physicians to identify and treat the cause of imbalance.

“The machine at first was intimidating because I did feel like I was going to fall, but I’m strapped in,” said Frankel, whose sessions spanned a little more than four weeks. “I was confident after the first session or two that Erin wasn’t going to let me fall. Now I have no fear of falling, and I leave here excited to do my exercises at home.”

The ability to maintain balance is very complex and depends on three major components: the sensory systems, the brain’s ability to use this information, and the muscles and joints that coordinate to keep one’s balance. Posturography tests each of these factors. “It’s a more global assessment,” said Dr. Mark J. Van Ess, DO. “We take patient symptoms, look at their physical examination, and then we look at components of balance testing. Posturography is one of those. It allows us to accurately assess motor outputs and map out a patient treatment plan.”

Posturography techniques were initially developed with support from NASA and later from the National Institutes of Health. They have been used in worldwide scientific research for decades and are considered a gold standard for evaluation of balance impairment.

“A lot of patients have multiple causes contributing to their imbalance,” added Dr. Van Ess. “That’s where Mercy’s multidisciplinary team comes into play. There are assessments from ophthalmology and optometry, evaluation from an ear, nose and throat doctor, cardiology and neurology – all these other specialties, which allow us to pinpoint the problem and bring in our team of physical therapists.”

Duck says 80-90 percent of Mercy patients who use CDP see an improvement of their quality of life, balance and satisfaction in much shorter spans. “We have treated people in the past where we’ve done traditional rehab on a piece of foam. Now I can bring those same people back and their improvement is in half the time. Actually, they’re a lot better than when I’d worked with them for two months at a time.”

“And patients are much more pleased about the outcomes,” explained Dr. Van Ess. “They’re getting outcomes faster. It’s more efficient for them. It saves health care dollars and saves extra visits to providers. We’re going to get these patients better, faster.”

“I feel like I’ve gotten a large part of my life back,” said Frankel. “I go out of here feeling much more challenged, and I’ve made such amazing progress. Last night I went to a basketball game for my little granddaughter and crawled through the bleachers and I was able to get in and out of the gymnasium that was crowded with people. Just a month ago that wasn’t an option.”

This new technology can be applied after head injuries, for balance and mobility disorders or for dizziness and vertigo. The key is talking with your physician to discuss when and where you may need assistance to prevent falling. A physician referral is required for this assessment. For more information, call Mercy Physical Therapy at 417-820-9300.