Equilibrium during static and dynamic tasks in blind subjects: no evidence of cross-modal plasticity
Can visual information be replaced by other sensory information in the control of static and dynamic equilibrium? We investigated the balancing behaviour of acquired and congenitally blind subjects (25 severe visually impaired subjectsç15 males and 10 females, mean age 36 AE13.5 SD) and age and gender-matched normal subjects under static and dynamic conditions. During quiet stance, the centre of foot pressure displacement was recorded and body sway analysed. Under dynamic conditions, subjects
... ditions, subjects rode a platform continuously moving in the antero-posterior direction, with eyes open (EO) and closed (EC). Balance was inferred by the movement of markers fixed on malleolus, hip and head. Amplitude of oscillation and cross-correlation between body segment movements were computed. During stance, in normal subjects body sway was larger EC than EO. In blind subjects, sway was similar under both visual conditions, in turn similar to normal subjects EC. Under dynamic conditions, in normal subjects head and hip were partially stabilized in space EO but translated as much as the platform EC. In blind subjects head and hip displacements were similar in the EO and the EC condition; with respect to normal subjects EC, body displacement was significantly larger with a stronger coupling between segments. Under both static and dynamic conditions, acquired and congenitally blind subjects had a similar behaviour. We conclude that long-term absence of visual information cannot be substituted by other sensory inputs. These results are at variance with the notion of compensatory cross-modal plasticity in blind subjects and strengthen the hypothesis that vision plays an obligatory role in the processing and integration of other sensory inputs for the selection of the balancing strategy in the control of equilibrium.