Posted December 10, 2007
For the past five years, the Dizziness and Balance Clinic at Idaho State University has helped steady many dizzy patients. Connie Pratt of Blackfoot is one such patient.
In 2004, Pratt began experiencing problems with dizziness, vision impairment and nausea after a small bump to the head. After some initial tests and treatments were conducted, Pratt still continued to have problems with balance and dizziness.
Shortly afterward, Pratt decided to visit a health fair at ISU and while there she met the staff from the Dizziness and Balance Clinic, an interdisciplinary program between the physical therapy and audiology departments at ISU designed to diagnose and provide rehabilitation for patients who suffer from balance problems and dizziness during their daily activities.
Over the next few months Pratt made many visits to the clinic. “The difference was immediate” says Pratt. “Before I couldn’t drive and when I walked down a flight of stairs I had to hang on to everything.”
Through the clinic visits, Pratt was taught exercises designed to strengthen her legs, hips and general posture as well as head manipulation exercises.
Today, Pratt continues to do the exercises at home and says that the program has made a big difference in her life. She is able to continue doing the things she loves, like dipping chocolates and spending time with her grandson. And about the clinic she adds, “They are great here. They feel like family.”
The clinic, which works with approximately 100 patients annually, has an 80 to 90 percent success rate in improving patient balance issues, say Deanna Dye, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy at ISU, and Jeff Brockett, Ed.D., assistant professor of audiology at ISU.
On the first visit, patients such as Pratt perform a variety of tests that measure the level of dizziness and balance dysfunction a patient may be experiencing.
The tests focus on the three main components of balance: vision, inner-ear (vestibular) functioning and joint sense. Based on the outcome, patients are prescribed anindividualized exercise program and goals for improvement are set.
The clinic was started in 2003 when Dye and Erin Maloff, a former audiologist with ISU, had the idea to combine the efforts of audiologists and physical therapists within the department. Before this time, each would see affected patients separately.
In order to effectively address balance and dizziness problems, Dye says “we needed to be able to explain what was happening in other disciplines.” Dye and Maloff began the program, but when Maloff left to pursue further study, Dye and Brockett moved the clinic to its current true interdisciplinary status. The unique arrangement between the two disciplines is unprecedented.
Both Dye and Brockett say the clinic would not have been possible without the assistance of Linda Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., dean of the Kasiska College of Health Professions. Hatzenbuehler assisted in supplying initial funding to purchase equipment and continues to strongly support the clinic as it grows.
Since the creation of the clinic, the unique fusion of audiology and physical therapy expertise has proven instrumental in treating dizzy patients.
The clinic also provides learning frameworks and essential field experience for students at ISU. Each patient visit is accompanied by at least one physical therapy student and one audiology student. The students begin these observations in the second year of doctoral study and log approximately 80 hours before beginning the third year of their program. “This is a primary reason we put this program together, for student opportunities,” said Brockett.
The majority of the clinic’s patients are garnered through referrals by area doctors or hospitals or through health fairs, as in the case of Pratt.
Because both Dye and Brockett are full-time academic faculty, clinic times are limited to Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. As a result, new appointments often need to be made several weeks in advance.
The long wait is one downside the clinic faces in providing effective long-term health care. Dye and Brockett say their next goal is to increase staff and update equipment so that larger numbers of patients can be treated for more extended periods of time.
Patients are seen in the clinic by appointment only. The clinic is located on the third floor of ISU’s Garrison House in the physical and occupational therapy department.
For more information on the clinic and its resources, contact the Dizziness and Balance Clinic at (208) 282-4095.