Oculometric Feature Changes During Acute Hypoxia in a Simulated High-Altitude Airdrop Scenario
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionAerospace Medicine and Human Performance. 2021, 92(12), 928-936. 10.3357/AMHP.5930.2021
BACKGROUND: Severe acute hypoxia results in a rapid deterioration of cognitive functioning and thus poses a risk for human operations in high altitude environments. This study aimed at investigating the effects of oxygen system failure during a high-altitude high-opening (HAHO) parachute jump scenario from 30,000 ft (9144 m) on human physiology and cognitive performance using a noncontact eye-tracking task. METHODS: Nine healthy male volunteers (ages 27–48) were recruited from the Norwegian Special Operations Commandos. Eye-tracking data were collected to derive information on cognitive performance in the context of rapid dynamic changes in pressure altitude while performing a modified King-Devick test. The baseline data was collected at 8000 ft (2438 m) while breathing 100% oxygen during decompression. For every test, the corresponding arterial blood gas analysis was performed. RESULTS: The study subjects endured severe hypoxia, which resulted in significant prolongations of fixation time (range: 284.1–245.6 ms) until 23,397 ft (131 m) and fixation size (range: 34.6–32.4 mm) until 25,389 ft (7739 m) as compared to the baseline (217.6 ± 17.8 ms and 27.2 ± 4.5 mm, respectively). The increase in the saccadic movement and decrease in the saccadic velocity was observed until 28,998 ft and 27,360 ft (8839 and 8339 m), respectively. DISCUSSION: This is the first study to investigate cognitive performance from measured oculometric variables during severe hypobaric hypoxia in a simulated high-altitude airdrop mission scenario. The measurement of altered oculometric variables under hypoxic conditions represents a potential avenue to study altered cognitive performance using noncontact sensors that can derive information and serve to provide the individual with a warning from impending incapacitation.
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