Clinical trials are yet to begin but hopes are high for University of Canberra PhD students Hayley Teasdale and David Hinwood and their Equilibri Balance Ball.
Designed to help reduce falls in the elderly and balance-impaired, Ms Teasdale said the ball retrains proprioception, the sense of where your body is in space.
“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.
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, which can be custom made for your handprint. 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. Ms Teasdale said they envisage it being used five minutes per day over a long-term basis for it to have the desired effect.
Ms Teasdale and Mr Hinwood will soon begin clinical trials of the Equilibri at the University of Canberra. They are currently building 40 balance balls which will be used for the trial and they expect the pilot stage will run for two months.
“But the plan is to recruit more researchers through UC to test the product,” Ms Teasdale said, as they believe it could have plenty of applications to help people with ADHD, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s or after stroke.
In the longer term, Ms Teasdale said they would like to see health care providers recommend their evidence-based product, however they also plan to sell directly to consumers.
“We wanted a solution to prevent falls that would be effective, but also accessible and affordable for all,” Ms Teasdale said.
To follow the Equilibri Balance Ball project, visit equilibri.co