The long days working at a bank operations center in the Southtowns – including hours at a time poring over records on microfiche – caught up to Randy Atlas in 1989. He plunged into a spell one night after a drive home that gave him a “swimming feeling in my head.”
Dizziness has ebbed and flowed through his life since, and became so debilitating last spring that he lost his latest job with a Buffalo church and was bed-ridden for several months.
“I had been overdoing it at work again, often staying late, taking work home, not getting enough sleep at night, not eating right, etc.,” said Atlas, 55, of the Town of Tonawanda, “and all of this reduced my quality time with my family.”
Doctors at Dent Neurologic Institute and physical therapist Susan E. Bennett helped put him on the mend, but folks like Atlas face a lifetime of worry that the proverbial shoe will drop them into another dizzying setback.
That’s why he is resurrecting the Dizziness and Balance Support Group of Buffalo & Western New York, a group he and others with vestibular disorders started in 1995.
The group will hold its first meeting in about 15 years from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Kenmore Branch Library, 160 Delaware Road, Kenmore. Meetings will continue the fourth Saturday of each month at the same time and place.
Persistent dizziness often starts in the inner ear or part of the brain that controls balance and vision. Many suffer from vertigo, which gives those afflicted the feeling that a room is spinning wildly. Others, including Atlas, try to weather a slower, still disorienting, dizziness. Migraine headaches and poor sleep are among the things that can worsen it.
Such disorders “are frequently misinterpreted by others as personal flaws instead of genuine health problems,” according to the Vestibular Disorders Association (vestibular.org), which assists the new support group and others like it elsewhere.
For more information on the group, call Atlas at 838-3730 or visit dizzygroup.org.
The stress of losing his mother and father-in-law last year added to the length and intensity of his dizzy spells, Atlas said. He has used a combination of better sleep and nutrition, behavioral therapy and anti-seizure medication to improve his condition – and outlook.
“The idea behind the medication … is that it slows down brain activity,” Atlas said. “In my case, my eyes don’t move at the same speed as my brain.”
Atlas said he has what is considered “subjective dizziness,” meaning there is no particular test to pinpoint his challenge. Dent and other dizziness and balance labs have made advances during the last decade to give him and others more information, and hope, about their diagnosis and treatment options, he said.
Atlas said his wife, Mary Kay, and their 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, have been a great source of comfort and support during his recent bout with his disorder, and the continuing symptoms associated with it.
“I’m grateful I can do a lot of things right now,” he said, “but I still can’t watch TV or go to the movies like I used to.”