A new study that has been published in the Ophthalmology journal uses virtual reality technology as a test for possible balancing problems.

University of California-San Diego researchers stated that falling is the top cause of injury-related fatalities among old people, with the risk of suffering a fall much higher for people that suffer from chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma.

The researchers acquired subjects both with and without glaucoma to test the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset by Oculus that has been acquired by Facebook.

The participants in the study wore the Oculus Rift and were then subjected to balance and movement tests, as the subjects were asked to stand on top of a force platform which simulates motion such as travelling through tunnels and standing on spinning floors.

As the researchers analyzed the participants while they used the Oculus Rift, they found that the subjects that were suffering from glaucoma made more pronounced efforts in regaining balance compared to those without glaucoma by up to 40 percent. The researchers also discovered that the effect of lost balance among the subjects suffering from glaucoma had a strong relation to previous falls.

According to the researchers, this could be attributed to the loss of the retinal ganglion cells due to glaucoma, leading to slower times for visual processing and impairments to motion perception.

Dr. Felipe Medeiros, the senior author of the study and the director of UC-San Diego's Visual Performance Laboratory, said that the Oculus Rift is a potent tool for testing balance issues because traditional tests are not able to mimic the visual conditions of movement the virtual reality headset is able to. Further exploration of the usage of the Oculus Rift for such a test could possibly lead to the headset's usage as a method to prevent people from suffering from high-risk falls.

Virtual reality is not a new technology for Medeiros, as he has used the technology to test the driving abilities of subjects on a virtual freeway. What is new to him however, is the low cost of the Oculus Rift, at only a few hundred dollars, compared to the expensive car simulator machine, which he purchased for about $300,000.

Advancements in virtual reality technology have allowed scientists to use it in their research, which the Oculus Rift already previously used in studies that focus in PTSD therapy and pain management.

"The technology is there," said Medeiros. "We need to find uses for this technology that will benefit the population as a whole, going beyond the video game use."

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