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August 2006 Issue

Julie Honaker, director of audiology in the UC Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
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Balance Center Revamps Services, Adds Equipment

Published August 2006

Just about everything you do in your daily life—whether it’s walking, driving a car or brushing your teeth—requires balance.

For most people balance is so instinctive they don’t think about it—until dizziness or disorientation signals that something has gone wrong. And when that happens, UC’s Balance Center is one of few comprehensive care facilities in the area to diagnose and treat the problem.

Maintaining balance depends on three complex processes, says Julie Honaker, director of audiology in the department of otolaryngology– head and neck surgery: the sensory system’s ability to accurately determine the body’s position relative to the environment (standing up, for example), the brain’s ability to process that information, and the coordinating movement of the muscles and joints.

The body’s balance sensors include the eyes, the sense of touch and the inner ear—where calcium carbonate “otolith particles” and fluid inside three paired canals stimulate hair cells to generate the sense of forward, backward and vertical motion in the head.

The Balance Center offers various tests that examine all the balance sensory systems and a person’s ability to execute coordinated movements, both voluntary and involuntary, to maintain balance.

Already one of the best equipped of its kind, UC’s Balance Center recently updated its platform posturography equipment and added several new tests, including a rotational chair and the vestibular evoked myogenetic potential (VEMP) test, all of which provide a more comprehensive look at the inner ear balance system than standard technology.

Platform posturography uses a booth with walls and a floor that move to measure how well patients maintain their balance under different conditions. The rotational chair moves at different speeds to measure the patient’s eye movements. VEMP measures the otoliths’ responses to sound stimulation.

“So many conditions can cause dizziness and disorientation,” says Honaker. “We’re like detectives when we evaluate and test people for balance disorders, because of all the conditions that must be ruled out as the cause. That’s why we’re really excited to add this equipment to our center—it gives us more in-depth options for what’s causing a patient’s balance issues.”

People can develop balance problems because of inner ear conditions, head injury, stroke or other neurological issues, she explains. “Balance disorders can really disrupt a person’s life,” adds Ravi Samy, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology.

“They can cause fatigue, shorten the attention span, disrupt sleep patterns and increase the risk of falling, making it difficult to do everyday tasks.”

Balance problems also increase with age, and Honaker, currently studying the risk and fear of falling in the elderly, hopes to establish a program for at-risk patients.“We’re an aging population, so it’s important to offer safety and counseling tips to help those prone to falling,” she says.

“I’m hoping to develop a multidisciplinary approach, which would include primary care, geriatric and neurology physicians, among others.”

For more information on the Balance Center and its services, call (513) 475-8453.

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