The role of sensory augmentation for people with vestibular deficits: Real-time balance aid and/or rehabilitation device?

J Vestib Res. 2017;27(1):63-76. doi: 10.3233/VES-170606.


This narrative review highlights findings from the sensory augmentation field for people with vestibular deficits and addresses the outstanding questions that are critical to the translation of this technology into clinical and/or personal use. Prior research has demonstrated that the real-time use of visual, vibrotactile, auditory, and multimodal sensory augmentation technologies can improve balance during static and dynamic stance tasks within a laboratory setting. However, its application in improving gait requires additional investigation, as does its efficacy as a rehabilitation device for people with vestibular deficits. In some locomotor studies involving sensory augmentation, gait velocity decreased and secondary task performance worsened, and subjects negatively altered their segmental control strategies when cues were provided following short training sessions. A further question is whether the retention and/or carry-over effects of training with a sensory augmentation technology exceed the retention and/or carry-over effects of training alone, thereby supporting its use as a rehabilitation device. Preliminary results suggest that there are short-term improvements in balance performance following a small number of training sessions with a sensory augmentation device. Long-term clinical and home-based controlled training studies are needed. It is hypothesized that sensory augmentation provides people with vestibular deficits with additional sensory input to promote central compensation during a specific exercise/activity; however, research is needed to substantiate this theory. Major obstacles standing in the way of its use for these critical applications include determining exercise/activity specific feedback parameters and dosage strategies. This paper summarizes the reported findings that support sensory augmentation as a balance aid and rehabilitation device, but does not critically examine efficacy or the quality of the research methods used in the reviewed studies.

Keywords: Sensory augmentation; balance; biofeedback; feedback; gait; sensory substitution; vestibular; vibrotactile.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Postural Balance*
  • Prostheses and Implants*
  • Vestibular Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth*