Science News

Vibrating Insoles To Help Wobbly Grannies

Sun, 2nd Nov 2003

As people get older, they get a bit wobblier on their feet, especially if they have had a stroke or suffer from diabetes. This can cause accidents like falls, which in the brittle-boned elderly can be serious and disabling. Scientists have now developed vibrating insoles, which dramatically reduce wobbliness in both young and old people, at least when they’re just standing still. The reason it works is quite complex, but basically we constantly adjust our bodies to make sure we stay upright, like balancing a pole on one finger. This process uses lots of tiny muscles and nerves, which are always reporting back and adjusting. But as we get older, it gets harder to activate these nerves so this feedback gets a bit blurred and balance is affected. The vibrating shoes are thought to add a level of background noise to the balance nerves- contrary to what you might think, in the nervous system noise actually helps real signals to get through more clearly. This amplifies the signal from the nerves, making it easier to send the messages to the muscles to adjust balance. It remains to be seen whether the new shoes can cut down on wobbles when walking, or prevent falls but the scientists are hopeful for a steadier future.

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