Real-time use of audio-biofeedback can improve postural sway in patients with degenerative ataxia. Fleszar Z, Mellone S, Giese M, Tacconi C, Becker C, Schöls L, Synofzik M, Ilg W.

Cerebellar ataxia essentially includes deficient postural control. It remains unclear whether augmented sensory information might help cerebellar patients, as the cerebellum underlies processing of various sensory modalities for postural control. Here, we hypothesized that patients with cerebellar degeneration can still exploit audio-biofeedback (ABF) of trunk acceleration as a real-time assistive signal to compensate for deficient postural control.

METHODS: Effects on postural sway during stance were assessed in an ABF intervention group versus a no-ABF disease control group (23 vs. 17 cerebellar patients) in a clinico-experimental study. A single-session ABF paradigm of standing plus short exergaming under ABF was applied. Postural sway with eyes open and eyes closed was quantified prior to ABF, under ABF, and post ABF.

RESULTS: Postural sway in the eyes closed condition was significantly reduced under ABF. Both benefit of ABF and benefit of vision correlated with the extent of postural sway at baseline, and both types of sensory benefits correlated with each other. Patients with strongest postural sway exhibited reduced postural sway also with eyes open, thus benefitting from both vision and ABF. No changes were observed in the no-ABF control group.

INTERPRETATION: Our findings provide proof-of-principle evidence that subjects with cerebellar degeneration are still able to integrate additional sensory modalities to compensate for deficient postural control: They can use auditory cues functionally similar to vision in the absence of vision, and additive to vision in the presence of vision (in case of pronounced postural sway). These findings might inform future assistive strategies for cerebellar ataxia.