• Virtual Reality Used in Glaucoma Research

    Written By: Dayle Kern
    Apr. 20, 2015

    Study looks at factors that could lead to falls

    Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death and morbidity in older adults, especially those with a chronic eye disease such as glaucoma. To investigate this problem, a multidisciplinary group of researchers used virtual reality technology to develop a new method for measuring balance control in glaucoma patients.

    People with glaucoma have a more than three times greater risk of falling than those without the condition. Yet, research to date has shown only a weak correlation between results obtained by visual field testing and risk of falls in glaucoma patients.

    The team of ophthalmologists, vision scientists and engineers based at the University of California, San Diego, conducted a study of 80 people, approximately half of whom had open-angle glaucoma. All participants wore Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, which simulated different types of motion that caused them to feel off-balance, such as moving through a tunnel or standing on a spinning floor. As they moved to regain balance, their movements were recorded by device they were standing on, called a force platform.

    During simulated movement, researchers found that participants with glaucoma made balance adjustments that were 30 to 40 percent more pronounced than the movements made by healthy participants. They also found that it took more time for the people with glaucoma to regain their balance and that the degree to which balance was lost was strongly linked to a history of falls.

    The study authors suspect that the pronounced lack of balance control in the subjects with glaucoma may be related to the loss of retinal ganglion cells (which are responsible for processing and sending visual information to the brain) caused by the disease, which leads to slower visual processing and impaired motion perception.

    The researchers hope that future studies using this virtual reality-based system will help ophthalmologists better understand the relationship between risk of falls and retinal ganglion cell loss in people with glaucoma. 

    Learn about glaucoma.