Posture, gait, quality of life, and hearing with a vestibular implant

Margaret R. Chow, Andrianna I. Ayiotis, Desi P. Schoo, Yoav Gimmon, Kelly E. Lane, Brian J. Morris, Mehdi A. Rahman, Nicolas S. Valentin, Peter J. Boutros, Stephen P. Bowditch, Bryan K. Ward, Daniel Q. Sun, Carolina Treviño Guajardo, Michael C. Schubert, John P. Carey, Charles C. della Santina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND Bilateral vestibular hypofunction is associated with chronic disequilibrium, postural instability, and unsteady gait owing to failure of vestibular reflexes that stabilize the eyes, head, and body. A vestibular implant may be effective in alleviating symptoms. METHODS Persons who had had ototoxic (7 participants) or idiopathic (1 participant) bilateral vestibular hypofunction for 2 to 23 years underwent unilateral implantation of a prosthesis that electrically stimulates the three semicircular canal branches of the vestibular nerve. Clinical outcomes included the score on the Bruininks–Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency balance subtest (range, 0 to 36, with higher scores indicating better balance), time to failure on the modified Romberg test (range, 0 to 30 seconds), score on the Dynamic Gait Index (range, 0 to 24, with higher scores indicating better gait performance), time needed to complete the Timed Up and Go test, gait speed, pure-tone auditory detection thresholds, speech discrimination scores, and quality of life. We compared participants’ results at baseline (before implantation) with those at 6 months (8 participants) and at 1 year (6 participants) with the device set in its usual treatment mode (varying stimulus pulse rate and amplitude to represent rotational head motion) and in a placebo mode (holding pulse rate and amplitude constant). RESULTS The median scores at baseline and at 6 months on the Bruininks–Oseretsky test were 17.5 and 21.0, respectively (median within-participant difference, 5.5 points; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0 to 10.0); the median times on the modified Romberg test were 3.6 seconds and 8.3 seconds (difference, 5.1; 95% CI, 1.5 to 27.6); the median scores on the Dynamic Gait Index were 12.5 and 22.5 (difference, 10.5 points; 95% CI, 1.5 to 12.0); the median times on the Timed Up and Go test were 11.0 seconds and 8.7 seconds (difference, 2.3; 95% CI, −1.7 to 5.0); and the median speeds on the gait-speed test were 1.03 m per second and 1.10 m per second (difference, 0.13; 95% CI, −0.25 to 0.30). Placebo-mode testing confirmed that improvements were due to treatment-mode stimulation. Among the 6 participants who were also assessed at 1 year, the median within-participant changes from baseline to 1 year were generally consistent with results at 6 months. Implantation caused ipsilateral hearing loss, with the air-conducted pure-tone average detection threshold at 6 months increasing by 3 to 16 dB in 5 participants and by 74 to 104 dB in 3 participants. Changes in participant-reported disability and quality of life paralleled changes in posture and gait. CONCLUSIONS Six months and 1 year after unilateral implantation of a vestibular prosthesis for bilateral vestibular hypofunction, measures of posture, gait, and quality of life were generally in the direction of improvement from baseline, but hearing was reduced in the ear with the implant in all but 1 participant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-532
Number of pages12
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 11 Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 Massachusetts Medical Society.


  • Aged
  • Bilateral Vestibulopathy/chemically induced
  • Dizziness/etiology
  • Female
  • Gait/physiology
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic/etiology
  • Hearing Loss/etiology
  • Humans
  • Implantable Neurostimulators/adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Postural Balance/physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Semicircular Canals/innervation
  • Vestibular Nerve/drug effects
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth/surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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