Recently, researchers from Hebrew SeniorLife Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) published an article in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation giving evidence that sub-sensory vibrations delivered to the foot soles of seniors can improve mobility and reduce the risk of falls in the elderly.
Researchers came to this conclusion by applying vibrating insoles to the feet of twelve healthy adults over the course of three visits. After the vibrations were delivered, researchers tested mobility using the timed up and go (TUG) assessment. In this test the study participant sits in a standard arm chair, is asked to stand and walk at a normal pace to a line on the floor 10 feet away, turn, return to the chair and sit down again. The time it takes to complete these movements is timed. Findings of the study show that foot sole vibrations improved TUG times for participants.
Why might this be? Well, for starters, when we stand upright and unaided, our feet are the only points of contact with the external environment. Therefore, our postural control is dependent upon the nervous system to detect characteristics of the ground below our feet and deliver that information back to the central nervous system. As researchers have discovered, vibratory noise increases the sensory input from the foot soles to the postural control system, which leads to greater control and improved mobility.
According to Dr. Junhong Zhou, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) at Hebrew SeniorLife, the vibrating insoles work by delivering “sub-sensory random noise vibration to the foot soles through the low voltage piezo-electric actuators.”
“By exploiting the principle of stochastic resonance, the insoles enhance the ability of the sensory neurons on the foot-soles to detect the weak input, and thus more meaningful somatosensory information helps the control of balance and mobility.”
In short, vibrations allow more information about the external environment to get the brain, which allows for greater control when walking or standing.
So what’s next? Unfortunately, vibrating soles are not yet on the market for those currently grappling with mobility issues. However, the hope is that they will be in the future. According to Dr. Zhou, the next steps for the development of vibrating insoles are as follows:
- Finding a (very small) battery source that would allow the insoles to work for longer periods of time.
- Optimizing the parameters of the vibrations.
- Building a model insole that would meet the differing needs of the consumer.
Though it may seem far off now, don’t despair. If this exciting research is any indication, the days when vibrating insoles hang in the aisle of your pharmacy are already on the horizon.