Balance And Hearing Disorders Are Common
Balance disorders are widespread, with 40 per cent of patients over 40 and more than two-thirds of people over 60 years of age experiencing some form of dizziness or loss of balance.
One in six Australians currently suffer from hearing loss or impairment, with that number expected to increase over the coming years.
Why Is Temporal Bone Research Important?
Given the impact of balance and hearing disorders on the patient’s quality of life, identifying the underlying pathology (or what is actually going wrong/disease process) is critical to improving treatment. A key component of this is the study of the temporal bone, which houses the body’s hearing and balance systems. To conduct this type of research, a small part of the temporal bone – only that containing the middle and inner ear – is surgically removed soon after life, without impacting the appearance of the donor’s face or head. This then enables inner ear structures to be prepared for a variety of research techniques, including microscopic study and procedures that allow identification of hearing and balance defects at a microscopic level. Research has provided key discoveries in understanding balance and hearing diseases which facilitates improvements in treatment (importance of genetics).
The Prevalence Of Vertigo (Dizziness And Imbalance)
One in three people will experience dizziness or imbalance during their lifetime. In the United States of America, there are an estimated five to eight million physician visits for dizziness each year. With regard to specific age groups, the overall incidence (or number of new cases) of dizziness, vertigo, and imbalance is 40% in patients older than 40 years. The rate of individuals older than 60 years of age who experience dizziness or loss of balance, often on a daily basis, has been estimated to be 65%. For the 65 year old and older age group, it has been estimated that 80% of people have experienced dizziness. In the over 70 years of age group, dizziness is the number one health complaint, and is a primary reason for a physician office visit. The estimated cost of medical care in the United States of America for patients with balance disorders exceeds $1 billion annually.
The Impact Of Vertigo (Dizziness And Imbalance) and Hearing Disorders
Balance disorders are associated with an increased risk of falls. In the elderly, falls frequently result in hip fractures and associated complications of pneumonia (50-60%), full time nursing care (~50%) and death (~25% in the 1st year). In its 2007 report on falls prevention in older age, the World Health Organisation states that 28-35% people aged over 64 years old fall each year, increasing to 32-42% for those over 70 years old. In older Australians, falls and their consequences are the leading cause of injury related death and disorders. The duration of a hospital stay due to falls in Australia is 23 days; which is much longer than other injuries.
Australian patients with unrecognized balance disorders are more likely to have reduced activities of daily living scores (this reflects how much a person is able to do for themselves), and to have sustained a fall in the previous three months. Vertigo frequently co-exists with psychological disorders; with depression the most frequent, followed by anxiety; particularly about leaving their home by themselves.
For both balance and hearing disorders, there are serious implications for quality and length of life, such as isolation, falls, depression, suicide, and reduced ability to maintain independence.
Timely diagnosis and treatment of balance disorders is widely accepted as reducing the risk of falls, and other potentially lethal consequences. Temporal bone pathology has shown particular value in uncovering the underlying disease processes and informing valuable diagnostic modalities and treatment strategies.
Improving Understanding Of The Balance Disorder CANVAS Through Temporal Bone Research
The benefits of temporal bone pathology have already been realised through recent advancements in the understanding of the balance condition Cerebellar Ataxia with Neuropathy and Vestibular Areflexia Syndrome, or CANVAS.
Temporal bone research has helped to gain an insight into CANVAS and in particular, which parts of the body’s balance system are affected. This has only been possible because of temporal bone research. Further research is now being carried out with the aim of identifying a way to diagnose the condition and enable patients to better manage the symptoms.