The Loh Down On Science

Sense-able Shoes

Wyss Institute / Harvard University

Forget sensible shoes, how about sensory shoes?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

As we age, our sense of balance declines.  In fact, every year, one in three seniors falls!

Balance declines partly because disease and old age affect nerve endings.  This diminishes our feet’s sense of touch.

Researchers have long known that applying vibrations to the soles of feet helps restore sensation.  Why?  Vibrations create the sensory equivalent of white noise.  Think of the concentration it takes to listen to someone in a noisy room.  Vibrations on soles are like noisy rooms.  They force nerves to work harder to communicate with the brain.

It seems like a great idea, but is it practical?

Doctors at Harvard University think so.  They’ve developed shoes with vibrating insoles! The shoes have tiny motors run by piezoelectrics.  Piezoelectric materials generate electricity from physical pressure.  This charges a tiny battery in the shoe’s tongue.  Turn on the battery and walk?  Imperceptible vibrations: bzzzzz!

In tests with healthy elderly volunteers, the shoes reduced postural swaying and improved steady walking.

So helpful for those cruise-ship buffets! Just sayin'.


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