This pilot study aimed to identify postural strategies in response to sensory perturbations (visual, auditory, somatosensory) in adults with and without sensory loss. We tested people with unilateral peripheral vestibular hypofunction (N = 12, mean age 62 range 23–78), or with Unilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss (USNHL, N = 9, 48, 22–82), or healthy controls (N = 21, 52, 28–80). Postural sway and head kinematics parameters (Directional Path in the anterior-posterior and medio-lateral directions (sway & head); pitch, yaw and roll (head) were analyzed in response to 2 levels of auditory (none, rhythmic sounds via headphones), visual (static, dynamic) and somatosensory cues (floor, foam) within a simulated, virtual 3-wall display of stars. We found no differences with the rhythmic auditory cues. The effect of foam was magnified in the vestibular group compared with controls for anterior-posterior and medio-lateral postural sway, and all head direction except for medio-lateral. The vestibular group had significantly larger anterior-posterior and medio-lateral postural sway and head movement on the static scene compared with controls. Differences in pitch, yaw and roll emerged between vestibular and controls only with sensory perturbations. The USNHL group did not increase their postural sway and head movement with the increased visual load as much as controls did, particularly when standing on the foam. They did not increase their medio-lateral sway with the foam as much as controls did. These findings suggest that individuals with USNHL employ a compensatory strategy of conscious control of balance, the functional implications of which need to be tested in future research.
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