Eye Movements Affect Postural Control in Young and Older Females

Article English OPEN
Dewhurst, S. ; Thomas, N.M. ; Bampouras, T.M. ; Donovan, T. (2016)
  • Publisher: Frontiers Media
  • Journal: Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, volume 8 (issn: 1663-4365, eissn: 1663-4365)
  • Related identifiers: pmc: PMC5025428, doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00216
  • Subject: balance | Z722 | Neuroscience | elderly | eye tracking | visual input | gaze accuracy | Original Research | smooth pursuit | saccadic
    mesheuropmc: eye diseases | genetic structures

Visual information is used for postural stabilization in humans. However, little is known about how eye movements prevalent in everyday life interact with the postural control system in older individuals. Therefore, the present study assessed the effects of stationary gaze fixations, smooth pursuits, and saccadic eye movements, with combinations of absent, fixed and oscillating large-field visual backgrounds to generate different forms of retinal flow, on postural control in healthy young and older females. Participants were presented with computer generated visual stimuli, whilst postural sway and gaze fixations were simultaneously assessed with a force platform and eye tracking equipment, respectively. The results showed that fixed backgrounds and stationary gaze fixations attenuated postural sway. In contrast, oscillating backgrounds and smooth pursuits increased postural sway. There were no differences regarding saccades. There were also no differences in postural sway or gaze errors between age groups in any visual condition. The stabilizing effect of the fixed visual stimuli show how retinal flow and extraocular factors guide postural adjustments. The destabilizing effect of oscillating visual backgrounds and smooth pursuits may be related to more challenging conditions for determining body shifts from retinal flow, and more complex extraocular signals, respectively. Because the older participants matched the young group's performance in all conditions, decreases of posture and gaze control during stance may not be a direct consequence of healthy aging. Further research examining extraocular and retinal mechanisms of balance control and the effects of eye movements, during locomotion, is needed to better inform fall prevention interventions.
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