A new test involving a virtual reality simulation was able to detect balance issues in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), potentially allowing doctors to identify whether a patient is at risk of falling despite having no apparent problems with walking, according to new research.
The results of the study, “Can optical flow perturbations detect walking balance impairment in people with multiple sclerosis?,” was published in the journal PLOS One.
One of the known symptoms of MS is problems with balance and walking. However, these issues can be subtle, and are often hard to detect in patients.
According to research studies, MS patients with minimal to no disability are still twice as likely to fall, on average, compared to people without MS, and many of these falls occur during walking. A study estimated that 56% of MS patients fall (defined as falling at least once over a three-month period), and about 37% are frequent fallers (falling at least twice over three months).
The difficulty in predicting a potential fall arises, in part, because some patients do not feel that they are impaired in their ability to walk.
Thus, a team led by researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, designed a test that could identify the risk of falling in MS patients, even if those patients may not be aware of any walking deficiencies.
The team recruited 14 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), under the age of 55 (average of 38.9 years), and who had not experienced an MS relapse within 30 days prior to the test. The patients also had to pass a walking test (they were excluded if they required more than six seconds to complete a 25-foot or 7.62-meter walk test), and had to have symptoms of spasticity under control through medication.
An age-matched cohort of 14 healthy volunteers (control group) was also analyzed for comparison.
The researchers also intend to develop the technology into a potential tool for physical therapy to help improve balance and reduce the falling risk in MS patients.
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