Living with a Vestibular Disorder During the Covid-19 Pandemic

A Research Study

Dr. Laura Smith, a lecturer in Psychology at the School of Psychology, University of Kent, collected information from people suffering from a vestibular disorder in the UK who had also been diagnosed with COVID-19. Following is a summary of this project.

Aims of the project

In this project, how people with vestibular disorders had been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic was explored. They wanted to find out about changes to their health during this time, as well how their everyday lives and routines had been impacted.

How we collected the data

They designed an online survey which asked about basic demographic information and health conditions. The survey also captured what vestibular symptoms people experienced before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, and what vestibular healthcare they had received throughout the pandemic. Questions also covered daily activities, work, and work-life balance. Some questions were in a multiple-choice format, while others had a free-text format so people could provide more detail.

They shared their survey with charity organisations, vestibular support groups and clinical teams who helped them to distribute this. 124 people in the UK completed their online survey.

What did we find?

People reported changes in their wellbeing; over half rated their health as worse now than before the pandemic. Some thought their vestibular symptoms had worsened during the pandemic. Vertigo, unsteadiness, dizziness, tinnitus, loss of concentration/memory, and headaches were the symptoms most likely to be rated as having worsened.

Disruptions to healthcare were common, including delays and longer waiting lists. Some people had been offered a remote consultation over the telephone or a video call. Generally, people thought remote care was convenient and offered flexibility. However, people reported some trade-offs including difficulty communicating and a less personal relationship with the healthcare professional. Remote appointments were perceived as more suitable for follow-up appointments rather than an initial appointment, where a diagnosis needs to be made.

People experienced changes in their daily routines including reduced social contact (83%) and exercise (54%). However, some unintended benefits of the pandemic were also reported including less pressure to socialise, avoiding busy places and being able to look after oneself.

Conclusions and Next Steps

The results show that the Covid-19 pandemic can impact people in different ways. People with vestibular disorders experience symptoms which can make them more vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Clinical services should be mindful that Covid-19 can heighten vestibular symptoms and offer support to improve wellbeing. They will share their findings at meetings and conferences and publish the results in journals to help raise awareness of this.

The study also produced some recommendations on how remote healthcare and supporting people to self-manage their symptoms could help. They plan to get some feedback to help us develop these recommendations further in our next research project.

If you have any questions about the study or would like more information, please contact:

Dr Laura Smith | Lecturer in Psychology
School of Psychology, University of Kent
[email protected]