Imagine stepping off a boat but continuing to experience the rocking motions of the open sea — all day, every day. That's the reality for sufferers of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS).
MdDS is a neurological condition induced after exposure to passive motion, such as sea or air travel. People with MdDS describe the condition as like living with a persistent feeling of rocking, or as if they were permanently walking on a trampoline.
While causes of the condition are not fully understood, researchers believe it occurs after the brain incorrectly adapts to rocking and bobbing motions, leading to continued imbalance even when sufferers return to stable ground.
There is no proven clinical cure for the condition, but research first conducted in the United States by Dr Yoon-Hee Cha of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research has shown advantages in using non-invasive brain stimulation to reduce symptoms.
The group approached neuroscientist and La Trobe Associate Professor Alan Pearce, who conducted a preliminary study with MdDS sufferers in 2014. He has been investigating the impact of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to reduce symptoms of the condition. His paper on this topic was published in the Journal of Neuropsychology.
Dr Pearce advises more research is required to determine the long-term effectiveness of rTMS, which delivers repeated electromagnetic pulses to specific parts of the brain.
“We need to see how effective this treatment is, but also how long it can be effective for,” Dr Pearce said. “Once we have this evidence, the hope is that the condition will be properly recognised, and treatment will be made available through Medicare.”
“The condition has a very real impact on people’s lives,” Dr Pearce explained. “Often people can no longer work or they have to work reduced hours. There are many exacerbating factors such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, bright lighting, confined spaces, computer work and the list goes on. Quality of life is totally compromised.”
Frustration is also common among MdDS patients, as often they can often be misdiagnosed or prescribed unnecessary medication.
‘Rock Steady’ campaign launched to fund research
MdDS Australia hopes to raise $35,000 to fund an assistant researcher for 12 months to support Dr Pearce’s research into rTMS treatment of the condition. The funding would also support the hire of an rTMS machine.
The group says the study would aim to validate previous findings on the condition, determine follow-up measures post brain stimulation, and compare the differences between people with chronic MdDS and people who experience the condition intermittently.