People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have increased visual dependency for balance and suspected vestibular dysfunction. Immersive virtual reality (VR) allows graded manipulation of visual sensory inputs during balance tasks, and hence VR coupled with portable force platforms have emerged as feasible, affordable, and validated tools for assessing sensory-motor integration of balance. This study aims to determine (i) how people with PD perform on a VR-based visual perturbation standing balance task compared to healthy controls (HC), and (ii) whether balance performance is influenced by vestibular function, when other known factors are controlled for. This prospective observational study compared the balance performance under varying sensory conditions in 40 people with mild to moderate PD with 40 age-matched HC. Vestibular function was assessed via Head Impulse Test (HIMP), cervical and ocular vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (cVEMPs and oVEMPs) and subjective visual vertical (SVV). Regression analyses were used to determine associations between VR balance performance on firm and foam surfaces with age, group, vestibular function, and lower limb proprioception. PD failed at significantly lower levels of visual perturbation than HC on both surfaces. In PD, greater disease severity was significantly associated with lower fall thresholds on both surfaces. Multiple PD participants failed prior to visual perturbation on foam. On firm, PD had a greater visual dependency. Increasing age, impaired proprioception, impaired SVV, abnormal HIMP and cVEMP scores were associated with worse balance performance. The multivariate model containing these factors explained 29% of the variability in balance performance on both surfaces. Quantitative VR-based balance assessment is safe and feasible in PD. Balance performance on both surfaces was associated with age, HIMP abnormality and proprioception.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.