For 73-year-old Ron Christensen, retirement hasn’t meant settling into a recliner. The former banker says he’s always been in good health and admits he likes being on the go.
“I’m an active person,” says the lifelong Indianapolis resident. “I’m out and about all the time.”
But he was in unchartered territory however when debilitating vertigo — a severe spinning sensation — hit him in the early morning hours of April 20, 2013, bringing his active lifestyle to a standstill.
“I got up to use the restroom, and I couldn’t hear out of my right ear,” remembers Ron. “ I shook my head to try and pop my ear and all of the sudden, the floor went up and the ceiling came down.”
His wife, Margot, found him on the couch when she got up, waiting for her to take him to the hospital.
“I was absolutely frightened and wondered if I’d had a stroke,” says Ron.
A trip to the hospital resulted in a diagnosis — acute vertigo and acute hearing loss — and a recommendation that Ron see his regular physician for a referral to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
Ron hoped the ENT could get to the bottom of what was causing the vertigo and hearing loss. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Test results ruled out stroke and a brain tumor, so the doctor prescribed physical therapy, telling Ron to come back in three months for another hearing test.
Although the physical therapy helped some, the vertigo still tethered Ron to home.
“Once and a while I’d feel okay, but mostly I couldn’t get the dizziness to quit,” says Ron. “I couldn’t drive and was stuck at home all day. I told Margot, ‘Something has to change; I can’t go through the rest of my life like this.’”
Ron turns to specialists for answers and relief
After three months of little relief from the vertigo and continued hearing loss, Ron sought the advice of a friend who worked for the Indiana University School of Medicine. She sent him a list of ENT specialists associated with the school and Indiana University Health. Ron set up an appointment with Charles Yates, MD, an IU Health specialist with the IU Health Neuroscience Center who deals with conditions affecting the ears and balance, among others.
“That man was wonderful,” says Ron. “Margot and I loved him right from the start. It took all of 10 minutes for him to tell me what was wrong.”
Dr. Yates’ diagnosis was acute labrynthinitis, a condition caused by either a viral or bacterial infection that results in vertigo and permanent hearing loss. The infection and hearing loss disrupted the signals going to Ron’s brain that controlled balance, causing the vertigo. Because exercise can help improve balance and retrain the brain to adjust, Dr. Yates prescribed 30 minutes of walking a day.
The exercise helped, but at a follow-up visit, Ron and Dr. Yates agreed he still had room for improvement. Fortunately for Ron, Neurorehabilitation and Robotics at the Indiana University Health Neuroscience Center, on the first floor of the IU Health Neuroscience Center, specializes in treating people with neurological issues, including the vertigo and balance problems Ron had.
“That’s where I wanted to go because Dr. Yates and the rehab center were there together,” says Ron. “They deal with balance issues all day long and do therapy specific to my issue.”
Ron first underwent evaluation using the NeuroCom Balance Master System to find out what type of movement triggered Ron’s dizziness. The small, three-sided booth includes a platform with sensors that measured how well Ron maintained his balance through a series of tests while the walls of the booth and the platform moved. The sensors relayed information to a computer, giving his therapist information to determine what therapies Ron needed.
Ron had therapy twice a week for six weeks, using both exercises in the booth, and simple head movement exercises to retrain his brain.
“I was mesmerized by that thing,” says Ron of the NeuroCom System. “I used the machine every time, but the exercises were never the same. It was always exciting to see what my therapist Patti had worked up for me.”
Ron says he saw improvement every visit and says today he’s back to doing his normal activities. Although he still suffers from hearing loss and his dizziness can occasionally flair up, he says, “I have my life back.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if my friend hadn’t referred me to IU School of Medicine, IU Health and Dr. Yates,” says Ron. “If you have a complex problem it’s where you want to go.”