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Sense of direction in vestibular disorders.

BACKGROUND: Our sense of direction (SOD) ability relies on the sensory integration of both visual information and self-motion cues from the proprioceptive and vestibular systems. Here, we assess how dysfunction of the vestibular system impacts perceived SOD in varying vestibular disorders, and secondly, we explore the effects of dizziness, migraine and psychological symptoms on SOD ability in patient and control groups.

METHODS: 87 patients with vestibular disorder and 69 control subjects were assessed with validated symptom and SOD questionnaires (Santa Barbara Sense of Direction scale and the Object Perspective test).

RESULTS: While patients with vestibular disorders performed significantly worse than controls at the group level, only central and functional disorders (vestibular migraine and persistent postural perceptual dizziness), not peripheral disorders (benign-paroxysmal positional vertigo, bilateral vestibular failure and Meniere's disease) showed significant differences compared to controls on the level of individual vestibular groups. Additionally, orientational abilities associated strongly with spatial anxiety and showed clear separation from general dizziness and psychological factors in both patient and control groups.

CONCLUSIONS: SOD appears to be less affected by peripheral vestibular dysfunction than by functional and/or central diagnoses, indicating that higher level disruptions to central vestibular processing networks may impact SOD more than reductions in sensory peripheral inputs. Additionally, spatial anxiety is highly associated with orientational abilities in both patients and control subjects.

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