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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 May;1164:492-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.03768.x.

Electrotactile feedback of sway position improves postural performance during galvanic vestibular stimulation.

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  • 1Universities Space Research Association, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas 77058, USA.


The purpose of this study was to assess the influence of electrotactile feedback on postural control performance during binaural galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS). Postural equilibrium was measured with a computerized hydraulic platform in 10 healthy adults (6M, 4F, 24-65 y). Feedback of anterior-posterior (AP) and mediallateral (ML) body sway was derived from a 2-axis linear accelerometer mounted on a torso belt and displayed on a 144-point electrotactile array held against the anterior dorsal tongue. Subjects were trained to use the tongue electrotactile feedback (TEF) by voluntarily swaying to draw figures on their tongue, both with and without GVS. Subjects performed 24 randomized trials (20-s duration with eyes closed, 2 trials per condition), including 4 support surface conditions (fixed, rotational sway-referenced, translating the support surface proportional to AP sway, and combined rotational-translational support-platform sway referencing), and 3 feedback conditions (baseline, GVS, and GVS with TEF). Postural performance was assessed using deviations from upright (peak-to-peak and root-mean-square sway) and convergence toward stability limits (time and distance to limit of support boundaries). Postural stability was impaired (with respect to baseline) during GVS in all platform conditions, with larger decrements in performance during trials with rotation sway-referencing. Electrotactile feedback improved performance with GVS toward non-GVS levels, especially during trials with rotation sway-referencing. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of TEF in providing sensory substitution to maintain postural stability during vestibular disturbances.

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