Age-related vision impairments are a well-acknowledged risk factor for geriatric falls. The goal of the proposed pilot research is to determine the importance of central and peripheral visual field loss on the ability to integrate balance-related sensory information during standing in young and older adults. Two types of visual field loss will be considered: a) sudden occlusion of the central and peripheral visual fiel loss through the use of specially-designed contact lenses in healthy young and older adults, and b) chronic central and peripheral visual field loss in older patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. Our first hypothesis is that peripheral vision dominates over central vision in postural stabilization, particularly in older adults (Aim #1). This will be teste using contact lenses to occlude peripheral or central vision in healthy young and older adults, thus inducing a model of acute of peripheral or central vision loss. Our second hypothesis is that the ability to integrate sensory information important for balance will be different between older patients (AMD or glaucoma) and healthy older participants with acute central or peripheral visual losses (Aim #2). This can be attributed to central adaptation processes found in patients. Three groups of participants between the ages of 65 and 85 years will be recruited for participation: (1) ten healthy subjects screened for ocular pathologies, (2) ten patients with advanced AMD, (3) ten patients with advanced glaucoma. Additionally, ten young subjects between the ages of 25 and 35 years will participate in the proposed experiments. All subjects will be screened for clinically significant conditions that impact balance. Eligible subjects will undergo both well- established and novel balance tests. Appropriately constructed mixed linear statistical models will be fit to each of the balance variables of interest to determine the impact of acute and chronic visual field losses on the ability to integrate balance-related sensory information during standing.

Public Health Relevance

This proposed project will determine the impact of visual field losses on standing balance in young and older adults. Visual field losses are a common type of vision impairment found in age-related ocular pathologies such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Falls are a serious public health concern in older adults who have such diseases. The findings of this research will improve our understanding of the etiology of falls in older adults who have vision problems. Thus, the data gathered in this project may help guide future research focused on falls interventions in older adults who have vision problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation Sciences Study Section (MRS)
Program Officer
Chen, Wen G
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University of Pittsburgh
Biomedical Engineering
Schools of Engineering
United States
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O'Connell, Caitlin; Mahboobin, Arash; Drexler, Scott et al. (2017) Effects of acute peripheral/central visual field loss on standing balance. Exp Brain Res 235:3261-3270