Vibrational Insoles Improve Balance in the Elderly
In the new study, 15 young adults and 12 elderly adults (mean age 73 years) were asked to stand quietly on special vibrating gel-based insoles with their eyes closed and hands at their side for 30 seconds. These experiments were repeated up to 20 times for the young adults (10 with vibration and 10 without) and 10 times with the elderly participants (5 with vibration and 5 without), with two minutes rest between each testing period. The vibration created by the insoles was below a detectable level, so participants were unable to feel when the vibration was occurring. Several measurements of posture were taken to determine how well each person could stand still during the procedure.
All measurements of postural sway were significantly improved in elderly participants when they were standing on the vibrating insoles, compared with their postural sway during periods of no vibration. This suggests that the vibration helps improve balance and motor control. Similar effects were observed in the young adult group, although the degree of improvement was higher in the elderly group. The difference between the two groups is likely due to the fact the younger individuals had better balance at the start of the study, and therefore had less room for improvement.
Studies show that the human balance control system declines with age and that adults over the age of 65 years are at greater risk of falling, due to loss of appropriate sensory mechanisms. It is not clear what causes these balance mechanisms to change as people age. Nonetheless, poor balance may lead to inability to perform daily activities, increased need for home healthcare, and loss of independence. The new study suggests that vibrational insoles may benefit elderly people and younger adults with poor balance and help them achieve a better quality of life.
Despite the promising results of the new study, vibrating insoles are not commercially available at this time. The signal generated by the device used in the study may be replicated by using a white noise machine that can be purchased at many specialty stores. However, it is unknown whether these machines would have the same therapeutic benefit.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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