Improving balance function using vestibular stochastic resonance: optimizing stimulus characteristics

Exp Brain Res. 2011 Apr;210(2):303-12. doi: 10.1007/s00221-011-2633-z. Epub 2011 Mar 26.


Stochastic resonance (SR) is a phenomenon whereby the response of a non-linear system to a weak periodic input signal is optimized by the presence of a particular non-zero level of noise. Stochastic resonance using imperceptible stochastic vestibular electrical stimulation, when applied to normal young and elderly subjects, has been shown to significantly improve ocular stabilization reflexes in response to whole-body tilt; improved balance performance during postural disturbances and optimize covariance between the weak input periodic signals introduced via venous blood pressure receptors and the heart rate responses. In our study, 15 subjects stood on a compliant surface with their eyes closed. They were given low-amplitude binaural bipolar stochastic electrical stimulation of the vestibular organs in two frequency ranges of 1-2 and 0-30 Hz over the amplitude range of 0 to ±700 μA. Subjects were instructed to maintain an upright stance during 43-s trials, which consisted of baseline (zero amplitude) and stimulation (non-zero amplitude) periods. Measures of stability of the head and trunk using inertial motion unit sensors attached to these segments and the whole body using a force plate were measured and quantified in the mediolateral plane. Using a multivariate optimization criterion, our results show that the low levels of vestibular stimulation given to the vestibular organs improved balance performance in normal healthy subjects in the range of 5-26% consistent with the stochastic resonance phenomenon. In our study, 8 of 15 and 10 of 15 subjects were responsive for the 1-2- and 0-30-Hz stimulus signals, respectively. The improvement in balance performance did not differ significantly between the stimulations in the two frequency ranges. The amplitude of optimal stimulus for improving balance performance was predominantly in the range of ±100 to ±400 μA. A device based on SR stimulation of the vestibular system might be useful as either a training modality to enhance adaptability or skill acquisition, or as a miniature patch-type stimulator that may be worn by people with disabilities due to aging or disease to improve posture and locomotion function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Recovery of Function / physiology
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vestibular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Vestibular Diseases / therapy*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / physiology*