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Smart belt helps Parkinson's patients with balance

A vibrating belt and a smartphone app could help reduce falls by assisting people who have balance problems.

To help people deal with balance issues, the belt gives touch feedback, and an app provides visual guidance.

University of Houston

A high-tech belt and a phone app may one day help Parkinson's patients and the elderly stay on their feet.

Researchers at the University of Houston are developing Smarter Balance System, an app with a sensor-equipped belt that records patients' movements and sends feedback via vibrations to guide them through a series of balance exercises.

"The smartphone application records and creates a custom motion for their body tilt based on their individual limits of stability," UH researcher Alberto Fung said in a release posted on the university's site last month. "The touch guidance from the vibrating actuators is almost acting as if a physical therapist is guiding them."

The system also provides visual guidance by way of a series of dots and targets on the smartphone's screen, and it uploads data to an online server so doctors and therapists can track a patient's progress, adjust exercise regimens and so on.

The researchers say their goal is to assist quality of life "by improving postural stability, reducing the number of falls and increasing their confidence in daily activities," UH's Beom-Chan Lee said in the release. Parkinson's patients in a 6-week home-based study showed "noticeable improvements," Lee said.