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Special Section:
Focus on Communication

Balancing Acts

Mia, and Isabelle Jeppsen meet with Mia’s cochlear implant surgeon, John Niparko.

Patients can safely practice walking and head turning to improve balance using the University of Pittsburgh's simulated grocery store aisles.
Photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Inner ear problems can make you dizzy

Brian Groark, 60, woke up one night dizzy, the room spinning. "It was like watching a movie, but every couple of frames were skipping. It was disorienting," the Pittsburgh accountant recalls.

The dizziness didn't go away. Finally Groark went to the Center for Balance Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), where he was diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV disrupts the inner ear's tiny balance-sensing structures. It is most commonly age-related, but may also be caused by inner ear infections or head injuries.

Groak failed to respond to initial treatment. "Happy to make a small contribution to public health," he agreed to participate in a clinical trial of a new type of balance therapy using computerized, virtual reality.

UPMC associate professor Susan Whitney, Ph.D., developed the therapy with funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). It involves simulated trips down the aisles of a virtual grocery store in the university's Medical Virtual Reality Center. Patients walk on a treadmill and safely practice walking and head turning.

For information on NIH clinical research, including how to participate, go to

After one practice session per week for six weeks, Groark felt much better. "It seems to have slowly subsided. It's just about all gone," he says. "I think virtual reality balance therapy may have a lot of potential."

NIDCD Turns 20!

NIDCD Celebrating 20 Years of Research.The NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) was established by Congress in1988 to fund and conduct scientific research on hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language—common elements in how we perceive and interact with the world.

From better hearing aid technology to the study of improved approaches for treating language disorders, NIDCD continues to advance its core scientific mission. "We are proud of the many challenges we have undertaken and the discoveries we continue to make to improve people's lives," says NIDCD director James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

For more information about NIDCD programs, see

Fall 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 4 Page 15