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Local spatial navigation or "steering" in patients with vestibular loss in a virtual reality environment.

BACKGROUND: Patients with vestibular loss have reduced wayfinding ability, but the association between vestibular loss and impaired steering spatial navigation is unclear.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether vestibular loss is associated with reduced steering navigation performance in a virtual reality (VR) environment containing obstacles.

METHODS: 17 ambulatory adults with vestibular loss were age/sex-matched to healthy controls. Participants traversed a VR hallway with obstacles, and their navigation performance was compared using metrics such as collisions, time, total distance travelled, and speed in single and multivariate analysis.

RESULTS: In univariate analysis there was no significant difference in collisions between vestibular patients and controls (1.84 vs. 2.24, p = 0.974). However, vestibular patients took more time, longer routes, and had lower speeds to complete the task (56.9 vs. 43.9 seconds, p <  0.001; 23.1 vs. 22.0 meters, p = 0.0312; 0.417 vs. 0.544 m/s, p <  0.001). These results were confirmed in multivariate analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: This study found that patients with vestibular loss displayed slower gait speeds and traveled longer distances, though did not make more collisions, during a VR steering navigation task. Beyond the known influence of vestibular function on gait speed, vestibular loss may also contribute to less efficient steering navigation through an obstacle-laden environment, through neural mechanisms that remain to be elucidated.

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