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Space Age technology helps regain balance

January 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Nearly 90 million Americans will suffer from dizziness or balance problems at some time in their lives. These problems can lead to a bad fall or broken bones. But a new type of technology originally developed for astronauts may help people regain their balance.Mike Marion loves shaping young minds -- that is, when he's not worried about falling over.

"I looked like a drunken sailor, and I was afraid I was going to get thrown out of school," said Mike.

A few years ago, a bike accident left Mike with unexplained dizziness. He's undergoing a unique therapy, and yes, it really is rocket science.

"The NeuroCom Balance Manager was developed by a NASA rocket scientist to take a look at balance in astronauts," said physical therapist Connie Weglarz.

A Space Age balance booth helps identify what's causing the unsteadiness. Infrared goggles track Mike's eyes and audiologists test Mike's hearing and inner ear. Together the tests and special exercises offer new hope to help diagnose, and then correct problems that make patients unsteady.

For Mike, the problem turned out to be damage to a nerve in his inner ear.

"We can make them better, and that's a great feeling," said clinical audiologist Amy Ariss.

Rosemary Roberts is learning to walk again. In the booth, Rosemary learns to negotiate real-life hazards, helping her regain her stability and her confidence.

"I'm a very independent person, and this has helped me to be the old me," said Roberts.

On average, patients see four to five doctors before getting a proper diagnosis for balance and dizziness problems. These can be caused by infections, head injury, disorders of blood circulation that affect the brain or inner ear, and certain medications.


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