Imagine seeing life through a handheld video camera. When you are still everything seems fine; but as soon as you start to move, the picture is far from perfect. Even a small step creates a jostling of the screen, leading to blurry, jumpy vision. This is how people with severe bilateral vestibular hypofunction (BVH) see the world due to a complete lack of neural input from either ear. But there is hope!
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on long-term improvements (six months and one year post implant) in quality of life and balance measures in BVH patients who have received a unilateral vestibular implant. The vestibular implant works using similar technology that we see in cochlear implants. Instead of a speech processor, acceleration and directional information are transformed into electrical impulses, stimulating the peripheral structures in one ear. Subjects saw general improvements in several measures of functional abilities. However, some decrease in hearing thresholds in the implanted ear were observed. Overall, the study results are promising and offer an exciting glimpse into the future of vestibular science.
Chow MR, Ayiotis AI, Schoo DP, et al. (2021) Posture, gait, quality of life, and hearing with a vestibular implant. New Eng J Med. 384(6):521-532. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2020457.
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