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OHSU researchers help develop portable device to assist those combating balance disorders

PORTLAND, Ore. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University's Neurological Sciences Institute and the University of Bologna have developed a portable "Ipod-like" device that can be used to help correct balance disorders. Scientists believe this new device, based on auditory feedback of balance, can be worn on the belt like a pager to provide regular therapy for patients with balance disorders, improving their day-to-day activities. The research is published in the current edition of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

"We believe this type of device can become an important tool in combating balance disorders associated with problems like vestibular loss diabetic neuropathy, or Parkinson's disease, where a person's ability to maintain balance is impaired," explained Fay Horak, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the NSI and senior author of the paper. "In fact, in early testing, research subjects with balance disorders who have used the device have shown significant improvement. We believe the nervous system can substitute auditory cues for missing or inaccurate sensory information from other senses important for balance, such as from sensors in the inner ear and from muscles and skin."

The balance feedback device acts much lot like a carpenter's level in alerting the subject to how much they are leaning outside of a predetermined central "safe-zone." The device is connected to a pair of headphones and hooked to the subject's belt. When activated, subjects receive audio cues to let them know how their body is balancing.

"Different tones and intensities tell subjects when they are leaning outside of their central safe zone," explains Marco Dozza, M.E., a graduate student in bioengineering at the University of Bologna who spent part of last year conducting human tests of the device in Horak's speciallydesigned balance disorders lab. "In addition, the sounds tell the subjects which way they are leaning so they can immediately co
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Contact: Jim Newman
newmanj@ohsu.edu
503-494-8231
Oregon Health & Science University
13-Jul-2005


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