Nearly half of people over 65 have a fall, and around 400,000 people over the age of 75 will have to go to hospital as a result of a fall every year, with costs to UK healthcare services estimated at £2billion a year. Many elderly people who have suffered a fall are worried about further injury and therefore stop or limit physical activities that otherwise might help them regain confidence and their original quality of life.
Gait analysis – the study of human motion – is currently the primary method of assessing the risk of falls by an elderly person. Balance and gait disturbances act as a good indicator of the risk of falls. However, gait analysis can usually only be conducted in research environments, which include 3D motion capture, ultrasound techniques, force and pressure analysis, and metabolic and physical activity monitoring.
Now researchers have developed a prototype insole which can be worn on the foot and which can measure the force and movement of a person walking, capturing data within a normal living environment. The data from the sensors will be saved to memory embedded within the insole or transmitted wirelessly for real-time processing.
Poor balance and gait are treatable through exercise programmes, so researchers believe the insoles will help people who have already had a fall to readjust their walking patterns. The insoles may also be used by physiotherapists, GPs and other healthcare providers to measure risk of falls and proactively prevent falls in elderly people.
Led by Professor Lynne Baillie, group lead for Interactive and Trustworthy Technologies research at GCU, the project has been funded by the Digital Health Institute, a Scottish Funding Council initiative to bring together health professionals, academics and industry partners to work together on innovative digital technologies. Professor Baillie is working with GCU Professor of Ageing and Health Dawn Skelton, and biomedical engineer Dr Philip Smit on the project.
Through an Experience Lab workshop designed by the Glasgow School of Art, the research team has been working with fallers and falls experts to improve the prototype and establish when fallers would receive most benefit from the device. Longer term trials will determine the effectiveness of the insole.
Professor Baillie said: “This has great potential to help with many gait related conditions like stroke and Parkinson’s Disease. Sensors are revolutionising how healthcare is delivered.”
Jeroen Blom from the Experience Lab team said: “The Experience Labs allowed the team to establish understanding and insight from the perception of fallers and professionals in terms of how this new technology could add value on a day to day basis.”
Read the original article at Glasgow Caledonian University: ‘Researchers to prevent elderly falls with insole sensors‘