Staying in balance
An intricate interplay of sensory information allows us to stay upright without falling over. The nervous system collects input from all parts of our bodies—toes to ears—and transmits this information to the muscles that control balance. We can automatically adjust our balance to a strong wind or an uneven sidewalk.
But when neural pathways are impaired—through age, injury, or illness—this sense of balance can be thrown off kilter and normal movements like standing or walking become difficult.
With an aim toward building robots that can balance like people, researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory have created a computer simulation that shows how the nervous system reinvents its communication with muscles after sensory loss. The findings could be used to better diagnose and rehabilitate patients with balance problems caused by normal aging or diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, says Lena Ting, lead researcher and assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering.