European researchers have developed a new shoe aimed at helping elderly people walk more safely, called smiling shoes. Holst Centre is involved in this European Program and cooperates with Smiling (Self Mobility Improvement in the eLderly by counteractING), a European Union research project. Holst Centre is responsible for the sensors that analyze the movements of the feet which are then wirelessly sent to a remote control or in the future to a smart phone.

Mobility is a very important issue for elderly people. A third of the elderly face a risk of falling. Falls are a huge, dangerous risk and mostly make the elderly insecure and anxious to take a walk again. To go for a walk is not only a physical function. It is also a way to keep in touch with society, it is a vital way of being a part of society. Elderly people who have suffered a fall do not just lose their balance at a given moment. There is often a cause or an aftermath. Many of them lose the ability to walk safely, they are no longer able to link motor, physical movements with impulses coming from the brain. So they need training. And the best way to do this is to provide them with an unstable environment. Studs on the soles of the shoes randomly change angles to de-stabilize the wearer, stimulating his brain in order for force him to keep his balance. In that way they 'learn' to link their brain with their motor movement again. A very important goal in this therapy is that the elderly people need to regain trust. With this training we try to teach them to get used to obstacles they might find while walking outside in the street.

The shoes change angles all the time, which stimulates the brain. The users' brain is also stimulated with other tricks. Wearers must listen to various instructions; they have to follow a path along colored lines on the floor. Also, they have to carry out what we call "a dual task", an additional activity to walking, for example, juggling with a ball.