Virtual balance test effective for glaucoma patients

A US study has found that virtual reality goggles may be more effective in testing balance in patients with glaucoma than other methods

16 Apr 2015 by Ryan O'Hare

US researchers have developed a new method for measuring balance control in glaucoma patients which has found that virtual reality may provide a more realistic testing environment than traditional methods.

Published in Ophthalmology on Thursday (16 April), scientists at the University of California, San Diego, used virtual reality goggles to investigate falls in older adults, especially those with chronic eye conditions such as glaucoma. 

While people with glaucoma are found to be three times more likely to experience a fall compared to those without the condition, previous research has only found a weak link between visual field tests and the risk of falls in glaucoma patients. 

In the study of 80 patients – 42 with open-angle glaucoma and 38 control subjects – participants wore Oculus Rift goggles, which are commonly associated with video games, while standing of a device known as a force platform which can measure balance and movement.

Researchers recorded a range of measurements by the force platform, including when the goggles simulated movements, such as moving through a tunnel or a spinning floor, and when they were not worn.

Researchers reported that when simulated movement was used, participants made balance adjustments which were 30–40% more pronounced in glaucoma patients than patients without the condition.  

In addition, the study reported that the degree of lost balance was “strongly” associated to a history of falls.

It is hoped that future studies using this technology will further help ophthalmologists understand that the relationship between the risk of falls and retinal ganglion cell loss in people with glaucoma.  

Senior author and Professor of Ophthalmology at the university, Felipe A Medeiros, explained: “Measures from traditional static visual field tests do not mimic the visual conditions that occur day-to-day.”

He added: “With further refinement of this method, we hope that the approach could one day be used to identify patients at high-risk of falling so that preventative measures can be employed at an earlier stage.”  

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