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The University of Southampton

Research project: Finding a sense of balance

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Developing better methods to test balance function

When people talk about the five senses, they don’t usually include the vestibular (balance) sense. However it is essential in everyday life. The sense of balance originates from the inner ear. When it goes wrong is can be very unpleasant/disabling and can result in falls leading to injury.


In an ageing poplation this can be a big problem
Injuries from falls

It is difficult to directly stimulate and test the vestibular system due to its position in the skull. Recently there have been a number of new methods proposed to test balance based on sound and vibration. However the clinical benefits of such testing approaches are still unclear. This project has two aims: to develop testing approaches for the balance system and to evaluate how useful existing methods are for clinical measurement.

Clinical test of balance example

A particular area of interest is the Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP). The VEMP is a response arising from the otolith organs and can be triggered by loud sounds or vibration. VEMPs have potential to measure different components of the balance system in isolation. They can help to further understating of how the balance system functions. We are also evaluating the use of other clinical tests of balance function such as ‘video head impulse test’.

Advanced balancing skills

To date the project has developed new ways to stimulate the balance system with sound and vibration, including the use of amplitude modulated sounds, jaw based stimulation and whole body vibration. We have also furthered understanding of the link between the vestibular occular reflex and the VEMP.

Students involved in the project include:
Jas Sandhu, Rachid Id Bihi, Matthew Murray, Henry Hestleton

Associated research themes

Bioengineering and human factors

Related research groups

Signal Processing, Audio and Hearing Group

Key Publications

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