Date of Award


Document type


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

First Supervisor

Mr Rory-McConn Walsh

Second Supervisor

Professor Susan Herdman


The HRB of Ireland funded the studies in this thesis through a Research Training for Health Professionals Fellowship Award. The RCSI Student Summer Grant Scheme provided funding for physiotherapy students Ms. Aine Glennon and Ms. Melissa Nolan to assist with the pilot study and the dynamic visual acuity reliability study.


Vestibular rehabilitation, virtual reality, gait impairment, unilateral vestibular hypofunction, UVH


Vestibular rehabilitation is an evidence based treatment for peripheral unilateral vestibular hypofunction (UVH). It is effective in improving physical function (balance, gait and dynamic visual acuity) and in reducing symptoms of dizziness, but precise effects on gait are less well known. The increasing prevalence of technology worldwide has produced opportunities for professionals in the area of vestibular rehabilitation. One technology, virtual reality, has potential but evidence relating to its effectiveness is lacking.

The thesis contains four studies related to two main objectives. The first objective was to investigate the effectiveness of an off-the-shelf virtual reality system, the Nintendo Wii Fit Plus™ (NWFP™) compared to conventional vestibular rehabilitation. In preparing to investigate effectiveness, study one quantified the usability and safety of the NWFP™ and found that patients with vestibular disease enjoyed balance exercises on the NWFP™ and perceived that it was beneficial.

Subsequently, study two compared the effectiveness of the NWFP™ to conventional vestibular rehabilitation. A parallel group, randomised controlled trial allocated n=71 patients with UVH to six weeks of NWFP™ based vestibular rehabilitation or six weeks of conventional vestibular rehabilitation. Intention to treat analysis indicated that the NWFP™ was not superior in improving the primary outcome of gait speed or secondary outcomes of balance, dynamic visual acuity, other gait parameters, dizziness, anxiety or depression. However, significantly more enjoyment was reported by the NWFP™ group, in addition to less difficulty with, and less tiredness after exercising.

Concurrently with the RCT, study three investigated the second objective, to compare the gait of healthy controls and UVH patients using computerised three dimensional gait analysis. Evidence was found that the primary impairment in UVH gait was reduced speed, and control In the medio-lateral direction. Study four investigated the reliability of computerised dynamic visual acuity testing and found that although DVA was more impaired in UVH patients when compared to healthy controls, reliability co-efficients were low.

In conclusion this thesis presents novel findings on the effectiveness of virtual reality in vestibular rehabilitation and on the factors contributing to gait impairment in UVH.

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A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 2014.