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Vibrating insoles could reduce falls

November 5, 2014
by Richard R. Rogoski
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A new study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation shows that small vibrations applied to the soles of the feet can help seniors retain their balance and prevent falls.

Researchers from the Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) at Hebrew SeniorLife, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and Harvard Medical School, all of Boston, Mass.; and Merck Sharpe and Dohme Consumer Care Inc., Memphis, Tenn., collaborated on the project, which used a urethane foam insole embedded with "piezoelectric actuators" that turn electrical energy into mechanical signals, such as vibrations.

Earlier studies by the Wyss Institute had shown that such vibrations could help restore balance. But the new study, involving 12 volunteers between the ages of 65 and 90, was the first to use piezoelectric actuators, commonly-available insoles and a rechargeable battery inside the tongue of a shoe.  Although the test group is small, the study could prompt larger studies involving wearable, low-cost methods to help seniors cmbat sensory loss and retain balance.

"Although loss of sensation in the feet is a common problem among elderly people that can impair balance and gait and result in falls, there are currently no interventions available that can reverse sensory impairments and prevent these dangerous consequences," said study lead author Lewis Lipsitz, MD, Director of the Institute for Aging Research in a press release. "We were very excited to discover that small amounts of vibratory noise applied to the soles of the feet may be able to do just that."