To determine comparability of methods, postural sway was measured simultaneously with a force platform and a device that registers head (and trunk) movements (head tracking). The effects of age, sex, height, weight, shoe area, and grip strength on both measurements were examined in 162 subjects. To determine whether either method had advantages in detecting abnormal balance 46 reference subjects were compared with 116 people randomly selected from 500 residents whose well water was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE) from a metal casting plant. Speed, mean radius, and distance of sway were equally reproducible with both methods. Correlation coefficients were 0.672 with the eyes closed and 0.588 with the eyes open. The balance of those exposed to PCBs and TCE was significantly worse than that of unexposed subjects by both head tracking (1.50 + 71 cm/s v 1.27 + 0.36 cm/s; p < 0.034) and the force platform (4.93 + 1.56 N (kg force) v 4.29 + 1.14 N; p < 0.013) with the eyes closed and differences were also significant with the eyes open. Head tracking and the force platform produced equivalent results. Measurement by head tracking is recommended for field studies because the device is more portable and is less influenced by weight and height. Both methods showed impaired balance associated with years of exposure to PCBs and TCE.
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