June 27, 2012

Enter any health club and the focus is on three elements of health: cardio-fitness, strength and flexibility. Researchers in the Department of Kinesiology have invented a device to improve what they consider the fourth wheel of mobility and healthy aging: balance control. It aims to improve balance for people at risk for falls, including those with balance disorders, stroke survivors, Parkinson's disease patients, and the elderly, among others. What makes the device, called Treadsense, unique and potentially life-saving is that it focuses on improving a person's balance while in motion, which is when falls are most likely to occur. Current rehabilitation technologies focus on improving posture/balance while standing, but the innovation with Treadsense is its low-cost and low-tech methods used to provide biofeedback to improve balance while walking and thus decrease the risk of falls. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that falls among the elderly population cost the U.S. health care system over $28.2 billion in 2010, and by 2020, the annual cost of fall injuries is expected to reach $54.9 billion. In addition to potential health care savings, preventing falls can save lives, extend life expectancy and improve quality of life, as non-fatal fall-related injuries often lead to reduced mobility and independence and increase the risk of early death. Treadsense was invented by Kinesiology Professor John Jeka; kinesiology doctoral student Eric Anson, who is also a licensed physical therapist; and kinesiology masters degree student Peter Agada (who is a UMD physics alumnus), and is based on Dr. Jeka's extensive research into the mechanisms involved in the body's balance control system. Their interdisciplinary research team also includes engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians, and involves both graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Maryland. Treadsense was featured on the ABC News 7 on June 26, 2012. Watch the video below:

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John Jeka, Eric Anson