A remarkable new project from two University of Canberra PhD students, the Equilibri Balance Ball aims to help reduce falls in the elderly and the balance-impaired, such as Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
Hayley Teasdale (Physiotherapy) and David Hinwood (Robotics Engineering) have developed the Equilibri Balance Ball to retrain proprioception, the sense of where your body is in space.
“We wanted a solution to prevent falls that would be effective, but also accessible and affordable for all,” Ms Teasdale said.
“As you get older, you rely more on sight, rather than on proprioception to keep your balance,” Ms Teasdale said. This makes it easier for falls to occur in low light conditions, or as eyesight deteriorates.
The neural pathways that control proprioception also diminish from disuse.
“Parkinson’s disease sufferers also have trouble with proprioception, and so have a constant lean because their bodies are trying to compensate for that,” Ms Teasdale said.
The Equilibri Balance Ball works to retrain that sense, so that the body can rely on it, rather than on sight alone. This in turn rebuilds neural pathways, and improves balance.
“Thanks to its neuroplasticity, the brain can form these new neural connections, and therefore reorganise itself or be retrained, throughout a person’s life,” Ms Teasdale said.
The balance ball has two hand-shaped sensor pads on either side. Sensors inside the ball calculate its location in space as users move it around, and the sensor pads vibrate accordingly.
The Equilibri is to be used with a series of specially-developed exercises, based on yoga and tai chi movements. The balance ball has been designed to complement existing therapies, such as physiotherapy, physical exercise and fitness classes.
Ms Teasdale and Mr Hinwood will soon begin clinical trials of the Equilibri at the University of Canberra.