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Saccadic Eye Movements are Related to Turning Performance in Parkinson Disease


Background. Persons with Parkinson disease (PD) experience difficulty turning, leading to freezing of gait and falls. We hypothesized that saccade dysfunction may relate to turning impairments, as turns are normally initiated with a saccade. Objective. Determine whether saccades are impaired during turns in PD and if characteristics of the turn-initiating saccade are predictive of ensuing turn performance. Methods. 23 persons with PD off medication and 19 controls performed 90 and 180 degree in-place turns to the right and left. Body segment rotations were measured using 3-D motion capture and oculomotor data were captured using a head-mounted eye tracking system and electrooculography. Total number of saccades and the amplitude, velocity, and timing of the first saccade were determined. Results. Turn performance (turn duration, number of steps to turn) was impaired in PD (p < 0.05). PD performed more saccades, and the velocity and timing of the first saccade was impaired for both turn amplitudes (p < 0.05). Amplitude of the first saccade was decreased in PD during 180 degree turns. Turn duration correlated with oculomotor function. Characteristics of the first saccade explained 48% and 58% of the variance in turn duration for 90 and 180 degree turns, respectively. Conclusions. Turning performance is impaired in PD and may be influenced by saccade dysfunction. An association between saccade function and turning performance may be indicative of the key role of saccades in initiating proper turning kinematics. Future work should focus on improving saccade performance during functional tasks and testing the effects of therapeutic interventions on related outcomes.