Jackson — For many Mississippians, just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge due to dizziness/vertigo/disequilibrium. According to NeuroCom International Inc. (www.onbalance.com/), dizziness is prevalent in ranges estimated at 1.8% for youth to as high as 30%-plus for the elderly. An estimated five to eight million physician visits are scheduled annually due to a dizziness or balance problem.
A large percentage of these patients suffer from a vestibular, or inner ear, disorder. This is treatable; however, NeuroCom said studies show that the cause of vestibular disorders is found only approximately 15% of the time. And while the problem can be cured and is non-life threatening, vestibular problems can cause life-limiting symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, anxiety and difficulty concentrating, and is the cause of 50% of all falls by the elderly each year. Factor in that dizziness/balance issues can be a sign of a condition much more serious than an inner ear problem, and it is imperative that Mississippians suffering with these symptoms seek medical treatment promptly.
That is exactly why the Balance and Hearing Center at Central Mississippi Medical Center (CMMC) was established approximately two years ago. The Balance and Hearing Center provides cutting-edge technology and treatments to battle these common yet under-diagnosed, potentially serious ailments.
“We draw patients from all over the state,” said Pam Claypool, program director and occupational therapist who is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, University of Mississippi and University of Florida. “Often, patients we see have become frustrated because they have not received relief after months or years of suffering. Dizziness and balance problems affect patients’ quality of life, and many are amazed — and pleased — when they come to us and see the level of treatment we provide.”
Responding to an unmet need
The roots of the Balance and Hearing Center go back several years when CMMC was looking to recruit a new physician. The prospective doctor asked if the hospital had the capability to treat dizziness/balance problems, and the hospital’s administration commissioned Claypool to look into those services. Claypool found two things — CMMC did not have the ability to treat such ailments in house, and there was a tremendous amount of unmet need among Mississippians for these services.
Still, CMMC did its homework. Claypool was sent all over the U.S. to visit other balance centers and see what they offered and their effectiveness. Then, the hospital contacted physicians in Mississippi to get their feedback.
“This was very important,” Claypool said. “Referral from a physician is required at the Balance and Hearing Center. We wanted to see what they thought — we didn’t want to alienate them. The response was very positive.”
With that, CMMC put its support behind the center’s formation, including its checkbook. And, that is important, because the equipment and expertise needed to operate it is expensive. An example is the Balance and Hearing Center’s rotary chair, which is designed to detect subtle vestibular abnormalities by utilize natural motion.
Claypool said the center’s rotary chair is the only one in Mississippi used for treating patients (the other is dedicated to research), and cost approximately $100,000.
“That’s why we’re the only one that has it,” Claypool said matter-of-factly. “The hospital has invested heavily in the center. They wanted the best.”
In addition to the rotary chair and computerized dynamic posturography, another cutting-edge tool which gives a coordinated integration of all components of balance (eyes, inner ear and muscles/joints), the Balance and Hearing Center also offers people power. Dr. Lisa Craft, Au.D., works from the center. Not only does the audiologist offer the most current knowledge, Croft has received specialized training in balance problems, offering center patients even more complete treatment.
“It’s amazing to watch the reaction of the patients when they come here,” said Craft, who serves as program manager. “They are just thrilled to receive this kind of treatment. It gives them hope, and to see someone who walks in with a problem leave a changed person — well, it can be pretty overwhelming and rewarding.”
The Balance and Hearing Center cannot help all-comers. Some balance problems have causes that are neurological or heart-related, and those patients are sent on to specialists in those fields. However, most of the center’s tests can be conducted in one visit, with the average visit taking approximately two hours, so patients get immediate feedback.
And, the center, which sees approximately 300 visits per year, is effective in treating approximately 70% of the patients referred to the Balance and Hearing Center respond to treatment.
Claypool said the center’s efforts in the future would be to continually look to expand the center’s effectiveness, and get the word out that balance/dizziness problems do not need to be ignored.
For more information on CMMC’s Balance and Hearing Center, visit http://www.centralmississippimedicalcenter.com/, and choose “Balance and Hearing Center.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.