by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
I’ve been reading your books with interest and read that eventually the balance system is irreversibly damaged in most people with Meniere’s disease. I was wondering how people cope with mobility at this point. Is a cane or walker still helpful or does it mean a wheelchair? What do most people do?
Meniere’s disease can indeed damage the balance system in your ears. However, even totally destroying this balance system (called the vestibular system) doesn’t leave you flopping around on the floor like a jellyfish. This is because we have, not one, but three separate balance systems. Thus when one quits working properly, our brains rely more on the other two to help keep us balanced.
You can read about our three balance systems (vestibular system, visual system and proprioceptive system) and how they all work together to keep us upright in my article at http://hearinglosshelp.com/blog/protect-your-balance-system-or-else/.
Furthermore, each of these balance systems consist of two (redundant) subsystems. For example, there is a separate vestibular (balance) system in each of our inner ears. Thus, if one side is damaged or destroyed, the other side takes over and allows us to keep our balance.
In fact, this is exactly what happens in the vast majority of people with Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s disease typically only attacks one ear. Thus, most people with Meniere’s, unless they are having a severe vertigo attack where they can’t even sit up, use whatever balance systems are still working and manage to get around reasonably well. Their brains learn to adapt and pay more attention to any balance system information that is still reliable.
However, people with damaged vestibular systems are not as steady on their feet as they once were. In fact, if the damage is severe in both ears, they may lurch and stagger–much like the proverbial “drunken sailor.” Such people often use canes or walking sticks to help steady themselves. Even so, I don’t know of any that are confined to wheelchairs solely because of their Meniere’s.
If you have damaged both vestibular systems, you will have a much more difficult time when it is dark (when you can’t use your eyes effectively) or when walking on uneven or soft ground (which messes up your proprioceptive system). Under such conditions you may have to “hang on” to a wall or another person.
To learn more about Meniere’s disease and what you can do about it, point your browser to http://hearinglosshelp.com/shop/the-agony-of-menieres-disease/.