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Balance-Restoring Insoles

Wearable shoe inserts that improve balance

Shear-activated nanotherapeutic

Balance in humans relies on complex feedback from the senses that govern the body's mechanical stability. But with aging and diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's, sensory function can diminish -- dulling the feedback that keeps healthy people steady on their feet.

One in three adults aged 65 and older falls every year and more than 18,000 older adults die from injuries sustained during such falls. These largely preventable incidents are also the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions for trauma.

The Wyss Solution

Wyss Institute and Boston University researchers have discovered that random and subtle vibrations, too gentle to be felt, can improve the sensory system and may restore stability. Devices in shoes can deliver these vibrations, essentially "jazzing" up the foot's sensory experience and boosting nerve cell sensitivity to external signals.

The technical term is "stochastic resonance" (SR), which is the counter-intuitive idea that applying a small amount of "noise" to a nonlinear system -- the body in this case -- can actually increase the sensitivity of the system. In other words, noise can be very constructive if applied properly -- and in the case of the insoles, the noise introduced to the user's feet is the subtle random vibrations.

How it works
Mechanical actuators are embedded into the vibrating insole devices, which are designed to be inserted into any type of footwear. The device would provide sensory enhancement stimulation to the user's feet. For an elderly individual, this sensory enhancement stimulation could potentially improve their sense of balance, which has been shown to be related to fall risk. For a wearer with diabetes, the vibrating insole might restore some of the sensation that is lost through the disease and could eventually decrease the risk of ulceration.

Potential applications:

  • Acceleration of rehabilitation
  • Stroke victims and diabetic patients (to reduce incidence of foot ulcers)
  • Elderly (improved balance)
  • Children with cerebral palsy (leg orthotics)
  • Athletes (e.g., rock climbers)
  • Workplace safety (e.g., steel workers working on tall structures)

 

Find out more

 

Caution: Investigational Device. Limited by US Law to investigational use.

We've won a Webby Award!

Wyss Institute is a winner of the 2012 Webby Awards in the Science category.