Walking and turning is a movement that places individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) at increased risk for fall-related injury. However, turning is an essential movement in activities of daily living, making up to 45 % of the total steps taken in a given day. Hypotheses regarding how turning is controlled suggest an essential role of anticipatory eye movements to provide feedforward information for body coordination. However, little research has investigated control of turning in individuals with PD with specific consideration for eye movements. The purpose of this study was to examine eye movement behavior and body segment coordination in individuals with PD during walking turns. Three experimental groups, a group of individuals with PD, a group of healthy young adults (YAC), and a group of healthy older adults (OAC), performed walking and turning tasks under two visual conditions: free gaze and fixed gaze. Whole-body motion capture and eye tracking characterized body segment coordination and eye movement behavior during walking trials. Statistical analysis revealed significant main effects of group (PD, YAC, and OAC) and visual condition (free and fixed gaze) on timing of segment rotation and horizontal eye movement. Within group comparisons, revealed timing of eye and head movement was significantly different between the free and fixed gaze conditions for YAC (p < 0.001) and OAC (p < 0.05), but not for the PD group (p > 0.05). In addition, while intersegment timings (reflecting segment coordination) were significantly different for YAC and OAC during free gaze (p < 0.05), they were not significantly different in PD. These results suggest individuals with PD do not make anticipatory eye and head movements ahead of turning and that this may result in altered segment coordination during turning. As such, eye movements may be an important addition to training programs for those with PD, possibly promoting better coordination during turning and potentially reducing the risk of falls.
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