Persons with diabetes have a higher risk of falls and fall related injuries. People with diabetes often develop peripheral neuropathy (DPN) as well as nerve damage throughout the body. In particular, reduced lower extremity proprioception due to DPN may cause a misjudgment of foot position and thus increase the risk of fall.
An innovative virtual obstacle crossing (VOC) paradigm using wearable sensors was developed in attempt to assess lower extremity position perception damage due to DPN.
Sixty-seven participants (Age: 55.4±8.9; BMI: 28.1±5.8) including diabetes with and without DPN as well as aged matched healthy controls were recruited. Severity of neuropathy was quantified using vibratory perception threshold (VPT) test. The ability of perception of lower extremity was quantified by measuring obstacle crossing success rate (OCSR), toe-obstacle clearance (TOC), and reaction time (TR) while crossing a series of virtual obstacles with heights at 10% and 20% of the subject’s leg length.
No significant difference was found between groups for age and BMI. The data revealed that DPN subjects had a significantly lower OCSR compared to diabetes with no neuropathy and controls at obstacle size of 10% (p<0.05). DPN subjects also demonstrated longer TR compared to other groups and for both obstacle sizes. In addition TOC was reduced in neuropathy groups. Interestingly, a significant correlation between TR and VPT (r=0.5, p<10-5) was observed indicating delay in reaction by increasing neuropathy severity. The delay becomes more pronounced by increasing the size of obstacle. Using regression model suggests that the change in reaction time between obstacle sizes of 10% and 20% of leg size is the most sensitive predictors for neuropathy severity with an odds ratio of 2.70 (p=0.02).
The findings demonstrate proof of concept of virtual reality application as a promising method for objective assessment of neuropathy severity, however; a further study is warranted to establish a stronger relationship between the measured parameters and neuropathy.