Although it might seem counter-intuitive, making it more difficult for older people to walk will actually improve their mobility. Walking on unpredictable and uneven surfaces can improve balance and help reduce risk of falling. Working on this principle, researchers at Glasgow's University of Strathclyde in collaboration with Israeli medical products company Step of Mind Ltd. (SoM) have developed an innovative training shoe based on this principle called Re-Step that incorporates four motors on the bottom of each shoe to make it more difficult for the wearer to walk, therefore helping in rehabilitation from movement disorders such as those that result from stroke or brain trauma.

The Re-Step system is the product of the Self Mobility Improvement in the Elderly by Counteracting Falls (SMILING) project at Strathclyde University. SoM initiated the system following recent research showing that a healthy brain functions with a certain lack of order and that damaged brains are actually too orderly, which causes difficulty in walking. The Re-Step system alters the angle and inclination of the sole of the shoes in a random way, which causes the brain to work harder to maintain balance and keep walking, resulting in an improvement in function in the parts of the brain responsible.

"The SMILING solution uses four motors in each shoe which react differently with every step taken by the person. This challenges the user to actively respond to the situation as they can't see what is coming next to allow time for an appropriate course of action," says David Carus, an Honorary Research Fellow in the University of Strathclyde's Faculty of Engineering, and a member of the SMILING project.

In addition to the motorized soles, the Re-Step shoes also measure and record the parameters of the wearer's gait, which can be analyzed by specialized software when the shoes are connected to a PC. This software tracks the wearer's progress and makes recommendations via a user interface that is designed to be easy enough for the elderly to use at home. The shoes are programmed to match the requirements of the specific user and the training program changes as the user's training progresses.

The University of Strathclyde researchers are examining the results of trials and SoM is also looking at using a similar method of "constrained induced therapy" to improve the function of other parts of the body such as hands.

Here's a video from SoM describing its Re-Step system.

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