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Glaucoma Research Now Using Virtual Reality

Created May 11, 2015 by in Retina, Retina Stories, Retinal Vascular Disorders

glaucoma virtual reality
More and more studies are showing that the leading cause of injury-related death in older adults is falls due to poor vision from chronic eye diseases like glaucoma. Researchers are now using virtual reality technology to measure balance and vision in patients with such eye diseases.

It’s been found that people with glaucoma have a 3 times great risk of falling down than those without. Yet, past research has yet to show a strong correlation between results obtained by visual field testing and risk of falls in patients with glaucoma.

A team of vision scientists, ophthalmologists, and engineers from UCSD, has recently conducted a study of 80 people (approximately half of whom had open-angle glaucoma). All participants wore the popular and most well known virtual reality goggles, the Oculus Rift. The VR program simulated various types of motion that caused them to feel off-balance, like 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 the simulated test, the team found that patients with glaucoma made balance adjustments that were 30% to 40% more pronounced than the movements made by healthy (non-glaucoma) participants. It was also found that it took significantly 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 most logical conclusion regarding the pronounced lack of balance control in the glaucoma patients 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.

Scientists 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.

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