NASA Spinoff

Medical Devices Assess, Treat Balance Disorders

altUnder the Balance Manager concept, NeuroCom’s products are cast into two broad categories: systems based on either dynamic or fixed force plate technology. NeuroCom’s dynamic models, which include EquiTest, SMART EquiTest, SMART Balance Master, and PRO Balance Master, offer the ability to control the support surface as well as the visual surround. The patient stands on the system’s dynamic force plate, a platform that shifts while recording the vertical forces applied by the feet as the patient attempts to maintain balance. Supported by a safety harness to prevent falls, the patient faces into the booth’s three-sided visual surround, which also tilts to test the visual component of the patient’s balance mechanisms. The system provides comprehensive reports that identify sensory and motor impairments and allow for comparison to normal data for the patient’s age range. The information gathered can be teased apart, says Peters, to help understand where the patient’s balance problems lie. The same system can then be used in a biofeedback mode (a video screen provides visual biofeedback), retraining sensory and motor systems to regain balance control.

NeuroCom’s fixed force plate models include the Balance Master and Basic Balance Master systems, which have a physical therapy focus and help identify specific daily performance issues and possible underlying sensory and motor impairments affecting balance. A stroke patient, for example, can be examined using a fixed force plate system to see what movements (getting up from a chair, for example) are contributing most to the patient’s difficulty. After therapists identify the problem, they can then use visual biofeedback to help the patient learn new cues to perform tasks more safely.

altAll of NeuroCom’s systems can be enhanced with optional protocols and capabilities. Among these is the inVision package, which measures changes in a patient’s visual acuity as a function of balance and head motion. The electromyography option analyzes the response of a patient’s gastrocnemius and tibialis muscles (both located in the lower leg) to unexpected external balance challenges. The NeuroGames package provides video games like Solitaire and NeuroPong that offer a fun way to rehabilitate balance control. Patients play the games on a Balance Master or SMART EquiTest system by shifting their center of gravity to control the action.

The versatility of the technology is essential; even patients with the same diagnosis, like Parkinson’s disease, can suffer from different balance impairments with different immediate causes. The same applies to the elderly. While about one-third of Americans over 65 experience falls each year according to the National Safety Council, the impairments that lead to these falls vary. The balance analysis and therapy offered by NeuroCom’s NASA-developed technology can help reduce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimate of over $19 billion spent each year to treat fall-related injuries.

The company continues to push its technology into new clinical realms, says Peters. “Applications have gone well beyond patients with vertigo and dizziness,” he notes. The company is exploring the relationship between balance disorders and cognitive issues like learning problems and attention deficit disorder. Peters says NeuroCom looks to sources like NASA as “guideposts for our efforts.”

“Because NASA has to deal with the complex problems of flying people in space,” he says, “their research tends to be more applied and closer to what we need to take hold of and put into general medical practice.”

NeuroCom®, Balance Manager®, EquiTest®, SMART EquiTest®, SMART Balance Master®, PRO Balance Master®, Balance Master®, and Basic Balance Master® are registered trademarks of NeuroCom International Inc. inVision™, NeuroGames™, and NeuroPong™ are trademarks of NeuroCom International Inc.