By Joy Savulak
Happily married for 61 years, Joan and Milton Wallack of Branford say that the secret to long-term wedded bliss comes down to two simple rules.
“First,” Joan, 85, says, “is listening to each other.”
“And making each other more than we could otherwise be,” adds Milton, 84.
Though Joan and Milton have been in perfect step throughout their six decades of marriage, life recently became a bit “off-balance” for the couple.
Milton, a retired periodontist, was diagnosed with a common form of vertigo – benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV – that causes brief episodes of intense dizziness.
“It made me very insecure because it felt like I was in space … and you have zero control in space. One time, I lost my balance while clearing the dishwasher and I fell on the kitchen floor. Luckily I wasn’t very hurt, but it could have been much, much worse.”
Milton’s doctor referred him to Gaylord Neurorehabilitation Services in North Haven where he began outpatient vestibular rehabilitation therapy with physical therapist Jadean Hoff, PT, DPT, NCS.
A month later, Joan began to exhibit similar symptoms and received the same diagnosis as her husband. Soon, Joan and Milton were booked for back-to-back appointments with Jadean.
“Joan was copying me,” joked Milton. “She thought Jadean’s therapy was so good that she wanted a piece of the action, herself,” he laughed.
Vestibular Rehabilitation to Stop the Spin
“Age is certainly a factor when it comes to vertigo,” noted Jadean, who explained that the disorder most commonly occurs in people over 60 years.
“BPPV - the kind of vertigo that Joan and Milton were dealing with - happens when calcium crystals in the ear canal float into the area that senses head rotation,” she said.
“When that happens, it can trigger dizziness and visual disturbances that affect balance.”
Jadean guided Joan and Milton through a series of exercises to guide the wayward crystals back in place. Though their symptoms quickly resolved, Jadean evaluated the couple’s baseline balance and discovered that Joan and Milton were both unsteady on their feet.
“Both have underlying disorders that put them at very high risk of falling,” she said. “Joan has a chronic breathing condition that leaves her easily fatigued. Milton has neuropathy, or limited sensation, in his feet. He also has a bad back and had two heart attacks in the not-so-distant past.”
Jadean urged the couple to continue vestibular rehabilitation to improve their balance and ultimately decrease their fall risk.
“With Joan,” she explained, “we’re focusing on building her endurance and challenging her balance reactions. For Milton, we’re addressing the components affecting his balance such as walking on different surfaces, performing certain head movements, working with his eyes closed, and strength training.”
Jadean noted that in the four months since she began treating Joan and Milton, both have made remarkable improvements.
“Milton’s now well-ahead of the game in walking endurance for someone his age. And Joan has made great progress in returning to a more normal walking speed, a key indicator of fall risk. Her balance and her dizziness improved, too.”
Milton credits Jadean with enabling him to prevent a fall earlier that day when his foot got caught in his car’s floor mat.
“I fell towards the door and I was able to hold myself back,” he said. “If that had happened two months ago, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to avoid hitting the ground.”
“And that’s exactly the goal of vestibular therapy,” Jadean said. “To decrease their fall risk, keep them healthy and safe and out of the hospital.”
But for now, the most important goal, says Joan, is to safely walk at the upcoming wedding of one of their seven grandchildren.
“But with the way Jadean has Milton walking,” she laughed, “I think he’ll be dancing at the wedding … with me!”