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(previously known as the Solesensor)

Published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, Volume 63, Issue 6, 1 June 2008, Pages 595–602 (Link

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One of the most pervasive effects of aging is a loss of cutaneous touch and pressure sensation. The loss of cutaneous sensation on the plantar surface (sole) of the feet has been correlated with impaired postural control (poor balance) and an increased risk of falling. In order to maintain a stable upright stance, the centre of gravity of the body must be positioned over the base of support established by the feet. Loss of balance and falling occur if the body weight is shifted too close to the limits of this base of support, too close to the perimeter of the plantar foot surface. A cutaneous sensation from the soles of the feet provides the central nervous system with this critical stability information. Numerous studies support the important contribution of cutaneous sensation from the plantar foot surface, in the control of postural balance. This cutaneous sensation acts, within the central nervous system, to trigger and/or modulate the automatic postural reflexes and reactions that act to prevent loss of balance.

Our research has shown that pressure sensation from the soles of the feet (plantar mechanoreceptors) plays an important role in controlling several key aspects of balancing reactions, particularly during compensatory stepping. As a result, age-related loss of plantar pressure sensation, which is very common, can lead to impaired control of these reactions. However, we have shown that it is possible to compensate for balance impairments resulting from this loss of sensation by using special footwear insoles to facilitate sensation from the perimeter of the sole.

To date, we have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach in laboratory studies and we have obtained a U.S. patent for the design concept. However, it remains to be determined whether the benefits of the footwear persist over the long term, or whether there is a habituation of the effect. Also, we need to determine whether there are any practical problems associated with wearing such footwear (e.g. discomfort or irritation of the skin).

Funded by a Candian Institutes of Health Research "Proof of Principle" Grant (PPP-53686).

Equipment funded by a Candian Foundation for Innovation Grant.