Virtual Obstacles in Gait Balance Assessment

Our balance assessment research is currently at the point of transforming from a stationary standing paradigm into the dynamic walking paradigm. In the standing paradigm, we explored the assessment of anxiety-caused imbalance through various intensity levels of sound and visual flow. However, the dynamic and stationary paradigms are so different that we cannot use the same strategies to reveal the nature caused the imbalance symptoms. Preventing falling is a challenge for human balance control since our bipedal standing or walking is inherently unstable to maintain balance, unlike quadruped animals who can use four supporting points to maintain balance.

We are trying to design and create VR scenes with more effective strategies and tasks to help analyze, quantify imbalance risks during gait. Recently, I read two papers talking about gait balance when fixed or suddenly appeared obstacles are involved. The papers are Age Effects on Strategies Used to Avoid Obstacles, and Anxiety-mediated gait adaptations reduce errors of obstacle negotiation among younger and older adults: Implications for fall risk. The idea of placing virtual obstacles in the path of walking might be helpful for our dynamic assessment. People may easily encounter obstacles in their daily life, and tripping over obstacles is another common cause of falls especially in the aging population. These two papers have been published for a long time, so the virtual reality was not available in their times. The virtual obstacles they mentioned were just lights cast onto the surface of the walking path.

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