Blind World Magazine

Balancing Device.

January 21, 2006. - Fresno,CA,USA.

Most of us take our balance for granted -- it just comes naturally. But about 90 million Americans experience balance problems at some point in their lives. Aging, vision loss, certain neurological problems and damage to the inner ear are all possible causes. Now there's a new device under investigation helping some people listen their way to stability.

Seven years ago, Fred Kawabata suffered a rare viral infection that attacked the balance system in his inner ear. He says, "Sometimes I find that if I'm not paying attention, I run into doorways because I'm not walking straight."

Now, Kawabata is testing a new feedback device that gives him audio cues. Different tones and intensities tell him if he's leaning forward, backward or sideways -- much like a carpenter's level.

"That sound is able to make Fred aware of this possibility of fall and is able also to tell Fred what to do in order to prevent the fall," says Marco Dozza, M.S., an electrical engineer at University of Bologna/Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Oregon Health & Science University senior scientist Fay B. Horak, Ph.D., P.T., says, "He's just trying to keep the tone as quiet as it can be and right in a middle tone so not too high and not too low."

Infrared light from cameras reflect off the balls and provide more data to help researchers analyze movement.

Dr. Horak says the device helps people like Kawabata rely more on other senses for balance -- like touch. "In the last test, it felt quite good. I felt stable and comfortable and more confident than in the beginning," Kawabata says.

According to Dr. Horak, what researchers don't know yet is whether patients can use it for just a short period of time and then have long-term benefits. They hope to begin testing the device soon on people with balance problems caused by diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Engineers are also working to develop a wireless and portable version people could use in their homes. In a previous study, patients who tested the device increased the time the spent in their "safe zone" where they weren't in danger of falling by 195 percent.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Oregon Health & Science University 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd Portland, OR 97239

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