How Vestibular Disorders Impact Cognitive Health

  • By Dizzy & Vertigo Institute
  • December 31, 2021

Vertigo and dizziness symptoms have an effect on your cognitive abilities. How you think and reason, concentrate, manage your emotional health – all can be impacted by the presence of vestibular disorders. It’s not uncommon for dizzy patients to struggle with attention, concentration and memory, disorientation and confusion, and emotion management.

Our balance systems are closely connected to many brain functions. And so when our brain’s must overcompensate for a dysfunctioning balance system, it weighs on our other mental tasks.

However, it’s the classic chicken-and-egg problem. As Dr. Timothy Hain outlines, there are three explanations posed by researchers:

  • Psychosomatic model — a primary psychiatric disturbance causes dizziness (psychiatric chicken causes dizziness egg)
    • Hyperventilation and hyperarousal increased vestibular sensitivity.
  • Somatopsychic model — a primary inner ear disturbance causes anxiety. (dizziness egg produces psychiatric chicken which produces more dizziness eggs)
    • Signals from the inner ear are misinterpreted as signifying immediate danger, which increases anxiety. Increased anxiety increases misinterpretation. Conditioning makes it persistent.
  • Network alarm model — renamed variant of somatopsychic model
    • Panic is triggered by a “false alarm” via afferents to the locus ceruleus (an area in the brain), which then triggers a “neuronal network”, including limbic, midbrain and prefrontal areas. This explanation seems to us to be the “somatopsychic” model, renamed and attached to a specific brain localization.

When we address the relationship between cognitive health and vestibular health, the variable at play is most frequently anxiety. Does an issue with anxiety cause more dizziness symptoms or the other way around? (Read more on Anxiety and Dizziness here)

But anxiety isn’t the only cognitive impact from vestibular disorders.

Cognitive Impacts

The cognitive impact, how we think and reason, our psychological and emotional health – all are related to our overall mental health and can be impacted by the presence of a vestibular disorder. It’s not often discussed, but vertigo affects more than your balance. It can affect your mental abilities too.

Common ways that vestibular disorders are related to cognitive impairments include:

  • Disorientation & Confusion – At the acute phase of symptoms, when dizzy symptoms are at their heights, we can lose sense of our surroundings and sense of presence. These frightening moments are usually short-lived as the physical symptoms subside.
  • Cognitive Stamina – Exhaustion from your brain compensating to maintain equilibrium can lead to mental fatigue quicker and quicker. It feels as though your dizzy symptoms deplete your mental energy and tasks mentally exhaust you. This is a long-tail effect that can linger.
  • Attention & Concentration – Trouble focusing, multi-tasking, and keeping track of processes. Stimulus from the world (noises and visuals) seem to throw you off track frequently. And concentrating for extended periods seems nearly impossible.
  • Vision & Cognitive Functioning – Due to the relationship between the eyes and the vestibular system, problems can arise with visual-spatial perception. Coordination and depth perception declines. Visually-induced vertigo may take place.
  • Emotion Management – The mental fatigue of symptoms can have an impact on how we think about our own outlook on life, self worth, depression, and other emotional drains.
  • Memory – Many of the above-mentioned symptoms can snowball into affecting one’s memory and how we process and remember new information.
  • Executive Functioning – The overall mental system of processing information, thinking through actions, and then executing these functions can be impaired. You may feel that your thoughts are more scattered, your ability to think and act is slowed. Vestibular dysfunction can be an overall drain on our mental ability.

It’s a dense list of mental symptoms. We understand that. But you should know that it’s not out of the ordinary to have cognitive problems in addition to your balance problems. And there are treatment protocols that can address these cognitive problems.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

With vestibular disorders, it can feel like symptoms spiral out of control and start to impact many areas of life. While our Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy starts by addressing the root, physical cause of dizziness, it additionally can encompass CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) – which is meant to address and strengthen one’s mental fortitude.

The physical, mental, and emotional pressures that vestibular disorders bring can be demoralizing.

The purpose, therefore, of CBT is to help patients elevate their mood and presence in life, adopt healthy coping behaviors for stress and anxiety, and be able to stay mentally-calm in triggering environments. Through mindfulness, exposure therapy, and a variety of other mental training programs, CBT trains people to be cognitively strong in the face of vertigo and dizziness.

We know how tough it is to live with dizzy symptoms and when it begins taking a turn on your cognitive health, it can quickly feel like things are only going to get worse.

If you feel lost in the face of your dizziness symptoms, then please reach out to our team. At the Dizzy & Vertigo Institute we specialize in bringing dizzy patients back to a dizzy-free life. And we’re eager to help YOU!

You can reach us at (310) 683-4679 or by filling out our contact form here

We hope to hear from you soon.

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