NeuRA researcher, Dr Jasmine Menant, investigates why a trial participant experiences dizziness. Photo by Anne Graham
By Yasmin Noone
Hope is on the horizon for the thousands of older people who experience mild and debilitating dizzy spells, thanks to a new investigation into why the light-headed sensations occur and what can be done to treat them.
The Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) trial, currently underway, will attempt to pinpoint the causes of dizziness in the older population, develop an effective screening tool to diagnose dizziness symptoms and suggest a number of treatment options.
Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the three-year randomised control trial will also measure the degree to which each of the proposed treatments actually reduce dizziness symptoms, improve function and restore quality of life in the volunteer population.
“We know that dizziness is quite common in older people and it can affect their quality of life, dramatically,” said Dr Menant.
“Usually the causes are quite benign and the older person might keep suffering from the symptoms and never get it sorted out.
“So the ultimate aim of this study is to better understand the dizziness [spells] experienced by older people and to provide them with a diagnosis, as there are many causes.”
Dr Menant explained, although there is no specific definition for dizziness, it is often referred to as “a feeling of an altered orientation in space. And that is quite subjective”.
However, she added, it is widely accepted that severe dizziness can be debilitating. It is also generally agreed that between 10 to 30 per cent of older community dwellers have experienced a dizzy spell.
“Most of the time, it is benign. But if dizziness is impairing your quality of life, then you might want to do something about it.”
Dizziness is also associated with an increased risk of falling in older people.
“It can be one vicious circle. If you stop moving around because of the dizziness, your strength and balance may decline and you might be at a greater risk of falling. Or you might suffer from depression on top of that or develop a fear of falling.
“There’s a cascade of events that might follow on from episodes of dizziness.
“Hopefully it is something that we can target quite simply.”
Participation is everything
NeuRA is currently searching for older people to participate in this trial.
Volunteers should be aged 65 and over and living either in the community or a retirement village; have experienced at least two episodes of dizziness in the past year; and not currently undergoing treatment or awaiting assessment for their dizziness.
A commitment of around six months is required.
Participants will be asked to visit the Sydney-based NeuRA headquarters at the start of their involvement for a four-to-five hour baseline assessment where their psychological health, inner-ear function, cardiovascular function, sensory functions, and motor functions will all be tested.
After that, they will be blindly allocated to either a control or intervention group.
“If they are in the control group, they will just go on with their usual life for the next six months,” Dr Menant said.
“If they are in the intervention group, they will be provided with some treatment therapy for their dizziness symptoms.”
The study will examine the four main types of dizziness: vertigo; pre-syncope; psychogenic and disequilibrium, and consider sensory, psychological and inner-ear function factors.
Treatment interventions include a home exercise program; a sensory program targeting inner ear deficits; cognitive behavioural therapy; or a referral to their geriatrician for further assessment.
Participants will be re-evaluated at the end of their six-month volunteer stint to measure their dizziness symptoms and the effectiveness of the treatment.
NeuRA aims to test around 300 older people over the next three years.
“It’s research. But hopefully, participants in this trial might have the symptoms of their disease resolved.
“They might have a good understanding of what the problem is and what type of intervention they are suited to.
“The study is all volunteer-based…We just appreciate the commitment required to take part.”
For more information or to participate in the trial, call Dr Jasmine Menant on 02 9399 1267 or email [email protected]