Vertigo is a very common condition, but it can be difficult to assess and to treat. It was with this in mind that a German consortium – including researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems – developed the headphone-based EQUIVert biofeedback system. It is claimed to be able to make the condition easier to understand, and to cure.
EQUIVert is designed specifically to treat vertigo caused by problems with the balance-maintaining vestibular organ in the inner ear. The headphones don't actually "fix" that organ, but instead are claimed to train the body's other sensory systems to compensate for its dysfunction.
Wearing the headphones, the user is verbally guided through a series of exercises while attempting to hold the so-called "equilibrium position," in which the head and body are kept straight and balance is maintained. Due to their faulty vestibular organ, however, the person may unknowingly be leaning to one side when they think they're standing straight.
Utilizing an integrated accelerometer and rotational sensors, the surround-sound headphones detect when the user is leaning, and prompt them to correct the problem via directional audio cues – if the person is leaning to the right, for instance, then the headphones will sound on that side.
In this way, after repeated training sessions in which the exercises get progressively more advanced, the body reportedly learns to hold the proper equilibrium position on its own, ignoring what the vestibular organ tells it. Once this happens, the designers claim, the vertigo is gone.
And while the headphones are intended for home-use, they can also be hard-wired to a computer in a doctor's office, running dedicated software. Utilizing that program, the physician can see an exact measurement of the patient's body sway, and use it to quantify the severity of their vertigo accordingly. As the patient proceeds to train with the headphones, their progress can be monitored.
Plans call for EQUIVert to be the subject of an upcoming crowdfunding campaign. If successful, it is hoped that the headphones will be commercially available starting in May, priced at approximately €650 (US$797). They are still pending approval for medical use.
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