Wearable biofeedback system improves balance in Parkinson’s patients

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Researchers at the University of Houston in the Department of Health and Human Performance are hoping to improve quality of life for Parkinson’s patients with a wearable belt connected to a smartphone application to help users regain balance.

The Smarter Balance System (SBS) is a personalized wearable, smartphone-connected biofeedback rehabilitation system that guides patients though balance rehabilitation exercises. Using vibrating actuators, the system utilizes “touch guidance” to guide and map a patient’s movements in real-time that can be reviewed on a smartphone.

"The smartphone application records and creates a custom motion for their body tilt based on their individual limits of stability. The touch guidance from the vibrating actuators is almost acting as if a physical therapist is guiding them," said Alberto Fung, University of Houston graduate student and part of the Sensori-Motor Augmentation & Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) Research Group.

In a six week, at-home study, researchers noted users experienced noticeable improvements.

"Our overarching goal is to improve their quality of life by improving postural stability, reducing the number of falls and increasing their confidence in daily activities," said Beom-Chan Lee, assistant professor and principle investigator of the study, which is assessing the impacts of long-term rehabilitative training on patients using the SBS system developed by Lee's team. "It's important to develop a system that is easy to use and readily available in the home environment. Most of the time, patients have to rehab at a clinic but there might be limited access. We're not trying to replace traditional therapy but there is a shortage of physical therapists."