New wearable device improves balance and prevents falls in older adults

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As people age, maintaining balance and posture becomes increasingly challenging.

This is due to various factors, including muscle weakness and changes in vision and sensory input.

Consequently, the risk of falling and sustaining injuries significantly increases in older individuals, with about 40% of them experiencing falls annually.

In recent decades, scientists have established that exercises focused on postural control can effectively prevent falls. These exercises train individuals to make compensatory postural adjustments (CPAs) in response to unexpected external disturbances.

However, the devices traditionally used for such training are often bulky, expensive, and complex, limiting their use to clinical settings.

A recent study published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine presents a groundbreaking solution.

Led by Assistant Professor Masataka Yamamoto from Tokyo University of Science, the research team developed a wearable balance exercise device (WBED) designed to improve reactive postural control in a more practical and accessible manner.

The Wearable Balance Exercise Device (WBED)

The WBED utilizes two pneumatic artificial muscles (PAMs) that function like shoulder straps or suspenders. These PAMs can extend or contract by regulating air pressure, creating unexpected sideways forces.

The device includes electronically controlled valves and a compressed gas can, allowing a computer program or smartphone app to control the perturbations.

This innovative design makes the WBED lightweight, portable, and user-friendly, suitable for both home and clinical settings.

Testing the WBED’s Effectiveness

The study involved 18 healthy male adults, divided into two groups: one using the WBED and a sham group without perturbations. Participants underwent balance evaluations before and after the exercise sessions.

The team measured several variables, including displacement and peak velocity, to assess improvements in postural control.

The findings were significant. Participants using the WBED showed marked improvements in reactive postural control, evidenced by reduced displacement and peak velocity.

These results confirm that WBED can effectively enhance an individual’s ability to respond to unexpected movements, thereby reducing the risk of falls.

Implications for Elderly and Physical Therapy

The WBED holds immense potential for older adults and individuals undergoing physical therapy. Regular training with this device can lead to better postural control and responsiveness, significantly decreasing the likelihood of falls.

The device’s ease of use and portability make it a practical tool for daily exercises at home.

Beyond Elderly Care: Applications in Sports

Interestingly, the WBED isn’t just beneficial for fall prevention among the elderly. It also offers potential advantages for athletes seeking to improve their balance and coordination.

The development of the WBED marks a significant step in promoting safer aging and physical rehabilitation.

By providing a practical and effective tool for balance training, this device can help older individuals maintain their independence and reduce the risk of injuries from falls.

As populations continue to age, especially in countries like Japan, such technological advancements are crucial for enhancing the quality of life and health outcomes for older adults.

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The research findings can be found in IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine.

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