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    Gaming headset could offer a win for glaucoma patients

    A gaming headset is helping researchers address balance issues in patients who have glaucoma.

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    A multidisciplinary group of researchers, most of whom are affiliated with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), says it is the first to use virtual reality technology to develop new metrics to measure balance control in those with the disease. Their work, published online by the journal Ophthalmology, ultimately aims to reduce the number of falls in older adults, especially those with chronic eye disease, because they are the leading cause of injury-related death and morbidity in that population.

    The investigators studied 42 patients with open-angle glaucoma; they had repeatable visual field defects on standard automated perimetry. Thirty-eight people without the disease served as controls.

    Study participants wore stereoscopic goggles (Oculus Rift, Oculus VR) that simulated various settings while they stood on a “force platform.” The platform recorded torque moments around the center of foot pressure when the goggles simulated actions such as progressing through a tunnel or standing on a spinning floor. It also recorded measurements when the study participants did not wear the goggles or when the goggles were not providing visual stimulation.

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    During simulated movement, researchers found, balance adjustments made by those with glaucoma were an average of 30 to 40 percent more pronounced than in the control subjects, who were able to regain balance more quickly. The authors of the cross-sectional study suspect that the pronounced lack of balance control in the participants with glaucoma may be related to the loss of retinal ganglion cells caused by the disease, which leads to slower visual processing and impaired motion perception.

    The study also found that the degree to which balance was lost was strongly linked to a history of falls, evaluated from information provided on a standard questionnaire. The researchers hope that future studies using this paradigm will help ophthalmologists better understand the relationship between the risk of falls and retinal ganglion cell loss in people with glaucoma.

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