Strapped in for safety — with a harness skydivers use to keep on their parachutes — a patient is bombarded with a variety of unique tests.
The floor slides. The walls pivot.
The machine tries its best to make the patient inside it lose his or her balance, but not without purpose.
The device, the NeuroCom Smart Equitest System, is just one of several advanced pieces of equipment found in Regional Medical Center’s new balance center. The purpose of the specialized center, which will open April 1 in RMC’s Tyler Center, is to test whether patients have balance issues and to help correct them.
The Smart Equitest System was developed for NASA to test astronauts and is the only device of its kind in northeast Alabama. The only other place in the state that has the machine is the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
From patients with Parkinson’s disease to senior citizens and athletes, the center is designed to help almost anyone improve his or her balance.
“Usually in almost any patient, you can affect some type of change,” said Lori Miller, physical therapy outpatient coordinator for the center. “We want to get patients with problems walking properly before they end up in the hospital from a fall.”
The Smart Equitest System measures various components that affect a person’s balance, which includes vision, the inner ear and the ability to sense bodily position.
“If an individual is normal and healthy, the senses of touch, position, vision and inner ear motion work together with the brain,” said Lisa Jenkins, RMC director of rehabilitative services.
“If you have a balance disorder, it may be the result of a problem with one or a combination of these systems.”
The machine places a patient through a series of tests and measures his or her reaction with a computerized platform. The patient is asked to maintain his or her balance while engaging in the tests.
But the Equitest System is not the only equipment in the center’s arsenal.
RMC has also acquired specialized goggles fitted with two infrared cameras that are linked to a computer. The goggles can record a patient’s eye movements during a series of tests. The goggles allow a therapist to see involuntary eye movements associated with certain disorders that can cause people to lose balance easily, Miller said.
Once a patient is determined to have a particular balancing issue, the center can put him or her through multiple 45-minute therapy sessions to improve mobility.
“Just because someone gets older doesn’t mean they are supposed to lose their balance,” Miller said. “They should actively seek help because it is something we can actively work with.”
For more information about the balance center or a referral, call the RMC Rehab Services Department at 256-235-5688.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.