The primary aim of this study was to investigate the efficacy of vestibular rehabilitation in a cohort of elderly labyrinthine-defective patients also affected by a moderate cognitive impairment of vascular origin. A secondary aim was to establish whether additional treatment with a cholinergic precursor (choline alphascerate) might enhance the results of the physical therapy in these patients. A retrospective clinical design was employed and data were collected from the vestibular rehabilitation treatment charts of 42 selected elderly patients who attended the tertiary referral centre of the Audiology and Vestibology of the University Hospital of Modena, Italy, in the period 1998-2008. Two groups of patients, well-matched for sex, age, and as close as possible for the vestibular examination upon admittance, were selected; Group A included 20 patients who had undergone vestibular rehabilitation training for one month and Group B included 22 patients who had attended the same physical therapy sessions as the former and had also received daily medication with 1200 mg of choline alphascerate per os. The outcome measures of the two forms of treatments were obtained from comparisons between posturographic and electronystagmographic examinations at baseline and 3 weeks after the end of treatment. Instrumental findings were completed by recording scores of the Dynamic Gait Index, the Dizziness Handicap Inventory and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale before and after treatment. A statistically significant improvement in postural control (p < 0.05) and gait and balance performances (p < 0.005) was recorded in both groups; a relevant and statistically significant reduction of the asymmetry of the vestibular-ocular reflexes was also observed (p < 0.005). The self-rated dizziness handicap and psychological distress were significantly reduced (p < 0.005). Comparisons between the two groups revealed that patients who had also received medication, had achieved significantly better results than the other patients with respect to postural control in response to optokinetic stimulations (p < 0.05) and to Dynamic Gait Index (p < 0.05), thus suggesting, a reinforcement of cholinergic stimulation on vestibular compensation when tested in clinical conditions that require complex perceptual-motor skills and make a significant demand upon cognitive spatial processing resources. Further applications of stimulation of the cholinergic neurotransmission are discussed with particular regard to vestibular compensation in patients with no cognitive impairment or recurrent vertigo attacks of labyrinthine origin
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