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

rrect the problem before they fall. For example, when subjects lean forward, they hear a high-pitched tone that becomes higher and louder the farther they lean forward. If subjects lean backward, they hear a low-pitched tone that drops and gets louder as they lean back. In addition, the tone becomes louder in the left ear when a subject leans too far to the left. The tone becomes louder in the right ear when the subject leans too far to the right."

To conduct this study, the researchers tested nine subject suffering from balance problems associated with bilateral vestibular loss caused by ototoxic medications, drugs that have a negative effect on the balance structures in the inner ear. When using the device, these subjects witnessed a marked decrease in sway area, meaning that they were less likely to lean far out of their safe zone. They also spent an increased amount of time within their safe area. Some subjects who were not able to stand on a soft cushion with eyes closed without the device were able to stand safely while using the balance feedback device.

One subject who has taken part in testing for the device is Fred Kawabata. The 65-year-old retired electronics engineer has balance problems associated with a reoccurring viral infection that affected his inner ear.

"It's as if my body isn't as fast as it used to be in providing feedback about my balance," explained Kawabata. "While maintaining balance is an automatic function for others, for me, some tasks require active thought about balance. During the testing, I found the device to be very intuitive in helping me correct balance issues more quickly."

Horak says follow-up studies are now required to determine how long the impact of balance training with the device lasts and how frequently balance training may be required.

"We are now testing how much the device works to help balance while walking," said Horak. OHSU's Neurological Science Institute is lo

Contact: Jim Newman
Oregon Health & Science University

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