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Assessing balance through the use of a low-cost head-mounted display in older adults: a pilot study

Authors Saldana SJ, Marsh AP, Rejeski WJ, Haberl JK, Wu P, Rosenthal S, Ip EH

Received 20 May 2017

Accepted for publication 6 July 2017

Published 26 August 2017 Volume 2017:12 Pages 1363—1370


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Richard Walker

Santiago J Saldana,1 Anthony P Marsh,2 W Jack Rejeski,2 Jack K Haberl,2 Peggy Wu,3 Scott Rosenthal,4 Edward H Ip1

1Department of Biostatistical Sciences, Wake Forest School of Medicine, 2Department of Health and Exercise Science, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, 3Research and Development, Smart Information Flow Technologies, Minneapolis, MN, 4Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA

Introduction: As the population ages, the prevention of falls is an increasingly important public health problem. Balance assessment forms an important component of fall-prevention programs for older adults. The recent development of cost-effective and highly responsive virtual reality (VR) systems means new methods of balance assessment are feasible in a clinical setting. This proof-of-concept study made use of the submillimeter tracking built into modern VR head-mounted displays (VRHMDs) to assess balance through the use of visual–vestibular conflict. The objective of this study was to evaluate the validity, acceptability, and reliability of using a VRHMD to assess balance in older adults.
Materials and methods: Validity was assessed by comparing measurements from the VRHMD to measurements of postural sway from a force plate. Acceptability was assessed through the use of the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire pre- and postexposure to assess possible side effects of the visual–vestibular conflict. Reliability was assessed by measuring correlations between repeated measurements 1 week apart. Variables of possible importance that were found to be reliable (r≥0.9) between tests separated by a week were then tested for differences compared to a control group. Assessment was performed as a cross-sectional single-site community center-based study in 13 older adults (≥65 years old, 80.2±7.3 years old, 77% female, five at risk of falls, eight controls). The VR balance assessment consisted of four modules: a baseline module, a reaction module, a balance module, and a seated assessment.
Results: There was a significant difference in the rate at which participants with a risk of falls changed their tilt in the anteroposterior direction compared to the control group. Participants with a risk of falls changed their tilt in the anteroposterior direction at 0.7°/second vs 0.4°/second for those without a history of falls. No significant differences were found between pre/postassessment for oculomotor score or total Simulator Sickness Questionnaire score. Both the force plate and the head-mounted display balance-assessment system were able to detect differences between conditions meant to mask visual and proprioceptive information.
Conclusion: This VRHMD is both affordable and portable, causes minimal simulator sickness, and produces repeatable results that can be used to assess balance in older adults.

Keywords: virtual reality, balance, falls, elderly

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