The ground seems to shake, everything is spinning – dizziness is the second most common cause right after pain that drives patients into the examination rooms of general practitioners. So far, both diagnosis and dizziness therapy are difficult. The doctor asks the patient to either stay still or walk on the spot with closed eyes – and observes them. The diagnosis is by no means objective. To contain the dizziness the most effective way is training, training and more training. But that is limited to the practice rooms at the doctor’s office and lacks effective systems that allow for a secure and expedient training in the own home.
EQUIVert optimized diagnosis and training
Both aspects are about to change: With the novel biofeedback therapy system EQUIVert that has been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg in collaboration with the partners of the University Duisburg-Essen, the GED Gesellschaft für Elektronik und Design mbH and the HNOnet NRW eG. With the EQUIVert system that contains of the screening device EQUIMedi in the form of headphones and the corresponding software, doctors are able to objectively evaluate the vertigo. On the other hand the patients are able to improve the dizziness with the training device EQUIFit in a secure and efficient way.
How does continuous training help with dizziness therapy?
In a healthy body a whole range of organs and functional systems are ensuring that we can stand and walk safely: Sensors in our inner ear detect the movement of the head and provide the brain with information on the direction that we move in. The eyes give our brain notes to the “location” of our body in the room. Sensors in skin, joints, muscles and tendons complete this information. If one of those systems is impaired – whether by disease of the inner ear, nerve inflammation or various other causes – the organ of equilibrium delivers wrong signals. That leads to dizziness. If you now train your balance, for example on a balancing board, the brain learns to deal with those wrong signals. If you train with your eyes open, they assume most of the equilibrium. But while lying in a dark room in your bed, or closing the eyes, they can’t take over that task anymore. The dizziness often returns in the darkness. But training on a balancing board with closed eyes could be a dangerous matter.
Headphones work as a “standing assistance” – similar to parking assistance
The system EQUIVert eradicates that deficiency. The patientputs on his training device EQUIFit for dizziness therapy with integrated acceleration and rate sensors and receives directions from the headphones to stand up straight. They are led by an acoustic signal: If they stagger too far to the right, a sound results on the headphones that seems to come from the right – similar to a parking assistance. During the process the system controls how good the patient performs their exercises and switches into the next level if required.
In short: The headphones provide the user with balance feedback that doesn’t rely on the eyes, but is coming from the ears that are closely connected to the equilibrium.
The headphones can be controlled and adjusted by gestures. If the patient picks up the headphones, they automatically turn on. Now he receives information on the operation, for example the volume setting. The modern operator control detects the input via gestures, specifically by nodding or shaking the head. The patient receives directions on his training exercises that he repeats on a daily basis. Meanwhile the intelligent system leads them in different difficulty levels through the training program. Adjusted to the measured values, it switches to the next level, when the limited values are met. That way, excessive demands can be prevented and their safety is guaranteed.
Objective dizziness diagnoses are possible
The system EQUIVert also works well for diagnosis. Instead of estimating by visual judgement how securely the patient stands, the medical doctor’s device EQUIMedi measures the exact stagger of the patient with the integrated acceleration and rate sensors. The results are transferred by cable to the PC of the doctor and are visually processed. With the analysis program EQUISoft the doctor can diagnose the dizziness objectively for the first time. Until now, diagnosis systems have been used that have the patient stand on a measuring plate that measures the center of gravity of their stance objectively via integrated sensors. However, these systems are too expensive for most practices. EQUIVert provides better results and is significantly more cost-effective and therefore affordable for practices and patients. The medical approval is almost completed and the first systems should be available soon.
- University Duisburg-Essen
- GED Gesellschaft für Elektronik und Design mbH
- HNOnet NRW eG