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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Vibrating shoes could halt falls
A little wobble could keep you more stable
Older people who wear shoes with specially-designed vibrating insoles might be less likely to hurt themselves falling over, say scientists.

According to research published in the Lancet, the tiny movements could actually boost their balance.

The US researchers say it improves sensory information coming back to the brain from the ankles and feet.

Falls are a significant cause of permanent injury to older people and cost the NHS many millions each year.

It is estimated that in any year, one in three of those aged more than 65 will have a significant fall of some kind.

Many of those falls are due to an age-related decline in the nervous system's ability to pass vital information back to the brain about the what the feet and ankles are doing.

This is what makes some older people lose their sense of balance.

The shoe insoles have been developed by scientists at Boston University.

No feeling

The vibration is actually at a very low frequency - so low, in fact, that the wearer does not notice it when the shoes are turned on.

We need to see the results in larger groups of older people - and see whether it actually has an impact on the rate of falls in that group.
Dr Peter Overstall, Hereford
In tests, 15 younger people and 12 older people aged on average 73 years were told to wear the shoes for just 30 seconds, and to stand still with their eyes closed.

The researchers looked for the "degree of sway" from each participant, and found that use of the insoles substantially decreased this among the elderly participants, and even the younger ones.

In fact, the balance of the older people wearing the shoes was as good as a younger volunteer without them.

More studies needed

Dr James Collins, who led the study, said: "Elderly people gain more in motor control performance than do young people with the application of 'noise' to the feet.

"Noise-based devices - such as randomly vibrating shoe insoles, might be effective in enhancing the performance of dynamic balance activities such as walking."

Dr Peter Overstall, a consultant in age care at Hereford County Hospital, told BBC News Online he found it "believable" the device could work.

He said: "We need to see the results in larger groups of older people - and see whether it actually has an impact on the rate of falls in that group.

"There was already a suggestion that having specially-designed soles - not vibrating - could provide better sensory information.

"There has been a move away from recommending that older people wear trainers with thick soles towards shoes with thinner soles."


SEE ALSO:
1 billion cost of elderly falls
20 Aug 03  |  Health
1,000 die from stair falls
14 Jun 00  |  Health


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