New clinic uses tech to identify dizziness

VNG system improves accuracy in diagnosing balance problems

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Apex Balance and Rehab, a recently opened physical therapy clinic in Port Townsend, has brought in new technology for identifying dizziness issues.

Physical therapists Christopher Martinez and Barbara Arrowsmith recently opened their clinic in the old Union Bank building at 2200 W. Sims Way.

The therapists focus on gait and balance training, strength training, and helping people recover from injuries and surgeries.

Theirs is the only physical therapy center on the Olympic Peninsula with a videonystagmography system, also known as VNG, Martinez said.

“The VNG system allows us to accurately diagnose dizziness issues,” Martinez said.

A VNG system is an infrared camera linked to a wireless computer suite. The camera goes over the eyes of a patient who is experiencing dizziness or vertigo issues like a mask and takes video of the patient’s eye movements.

“The camera will record a nystagmus, which is a rapid eye movement,” Arrowsmith said. “What’ll happen is your eye will appear normal, but the pupil will jerk to one side or the other, and it looks like it’s vibrating.”

By slowing down the recording of the patient’s eye movement and studying its direction and speed, the VNG system can help find the cause of the patient’s dizziness, whether it is vertigo, or if it is something more serious such as a central nervous system issue or a stroke, Martinez said.

Martinez and Arrowsmith give free 15-minute consultations to anyone who is experiencing dizziness, or any symptoms that might require physical therapy.

“We start off with our evaluation,” Martinez said. “We do a battery of neurological tests, and we then put them under the frenzel goggles and record them and see what we get. We do bow tests, lean tests, left and right tests, roll tests as well as other tests, and we see how those pieces fit together with what they are feeling, what they’re reporting.”

The frenzel goggles go over the patient’s eyes and record their eye movements.

Then, once the goggles have recorded any eye movements, the therapists can look at the images on their computer to determine the cause.

“It takes all of the guesswork out,” Martinez said. “It allows us to rewind it, go back to the exact point it happens and look at what’s happening.”

While the technology helps them make diagnoses, Martinez and Arrowsmith rely on hands-on work with their patients for treatment.

Not only do they provide free consultations for clients, they also hold free community “fit and fall-proof” exercises classes from 1 to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“For an older person, isolation and being sedentary can be detrimental to their health,” Martinez said. “The classes offer an alternative to that.”

The No. 1 cause of death for elderly people is falling and sustaining a head injury, Martinez said. Working on balance and strength can help prevent that.

“Balance is not an on-and-off thing,” Martinez said. “It’s not a light switch, it’s a skill. But as it degrades, we can work to make it better. It has to be an appropriate practice, it has to be focused and has to be tailored to what that person needs.”

In 2018, Jefferson County had the highest proportion of people 65 and older in the state. But Martinez and Arrowsmith said their older clients are still active. They hope to help them stay that way.

“I don’t like to see you any more than I have to,” Martinez said. “We want you out there enjoying your life.”

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