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Investigating the task-relevance of visual fixations during locomotion in Parkinson’s disease

Hunt, D., Stuart, S., Nell, J., Galna, B.ORCID: 0000-0002-5890-1894, Rochester, L. and Alcock, L. (2017) Investigating the task-relevance of visual fixations during locomotion in Parkinson’s disease. In: British Neuroscience Association (BNA) 2017: Festival of Neuroscience, 10-13 April 2017, Birmingham International Conference Centre, UK.

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INTRODUCTION: People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) commonly report visual problems, such as impaired eye movements [1,2]. Visual dysfunction can impact safe walking capability, particularly if task-relevant visual information is not gathered when walking. Limited research exists that has explored the location of gaze fixations when walking [3], which are important for appropriate visual input during locomotion.

AIM: This study aimed to examine the task-relevance of fixation locations during various walking tasks in PD.

METHOD: 40 control (68.8[8.8]y, 20m) and 38 PD participants (69.6[8.2]y, 23m) ; one with no additional stimuli and another with additional stimuli (either with visual cues or a high contrast obstacle to transverse) whilst wearing a mobile eye-tracking device. All walks were repeated under dual task (Wechsler digit span) conditions. The location of fixations was manually classified, coded as relevant/irrelevant to the task, and analysed using negative binomial regression.

RESULTS: During single task walking, people with PD made significantly more fixations (p=.032) with the difference resulting from more irrelevant fixations (p=.014). Both groups had similar number and relevance of fixations with visual cues (p=.359). However, people with PD required more task-relevant fixations (i.e. looked at the obstacle/floor more) to complete both single task (p=.007) and dual task (p=.007) obstacle crossing trials.

CONCLUSION: People with PD make more irrelevant fixations than controls when walking, which may contribute to impaired mobility and falls. High contrast obstacles and visual cues attract visual attention to relevant areas when walking, which may reduce falls risk. An increased frequency of task relevant fixations during both single and dual task obstacle negotiation indicated that home based modifications such as improving the saliency of trip hazards may redirect visual exploration even when attentional demands are high. Further work is required to examine fixations locations when walking in real-world environments which contain more visual distractors.

REFERENCES: [1] Chan et al., (2005). Neuropsychologia, 43(5), pp.784-796. [2] Amador et al., (2006). Neuropsychologia, 44(8), pp.1475-1482. [3] Stuart et al., (2016). Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 62, pp.76-88.

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