Feeling Off Balance? Assistive Devices to the Rescue

For some people living with MS, maintaining balance and coordination can be tricky and make walking difficult. There are plenty of traditional devices that help us—canes, walkers, wheelchairs—but what does the future of assistive technology look like? From video games to virtual reality, science is working to develop innovative ways that help maintain your stability and independence.

Orthotics

Assistive devices such as ankle-foot orthotics are the most common type of brace prescribed to people living with MS. A simple elastic and plastic design, the brace helps provide rigid support for foot drop and gait problems. But what if you could pair down your assistive device to an invisible insole?

Researchers at Boston University and the Wyss Institute at Harvard are developing insoles for footwear that use vibrating patterns to help improve balance and gait. By stimulating parts of your feet, the insole helps improve the sensory feedback system, which in turn improves your sense of balance and stability. An accompanying smartphone app helps see the vibration and battery level of the insole.

Virtual Reality

Another new piece of tech is GaitAid, a virtual reality device that when worn like a pair of glasses, superimposes a checkerboard pattern onto your field of view. Attached to the glasses is the control unit, which provides you with additional sound cues to help establish stride and rhythm. Billed as a brain-training device, GaitAid allows the wearer to practice walking in 20-30 minute sessions. Results to date show the potential for increased balance and mobility.

Video Games

Of all futuristic assistive technology, today’s most accessible (and entertaining) option is the Nintendo Wii™. A recent study from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society found that video games using the Nintendo Wii™ Balance Board help to train parts of the brain responsible for balance and mobility. Playing games requires people to shift their weight in accordance with their on-screen counterpart, strengthening the impulses between body and brain.

What assistive device technology most appeals to you?

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