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November 9, 2009

Preventing Falls Using Technology

For gerontologists, physical therapists, techno geeks, and elderly everywhere, technology has lined up with medicine to help prevent falls. Some grim statistics about falling:

Falls are so harmful to the elderly and so costly to society that if falling were a disease, it would be deemed an epidemic. More than one-third of people ages 65 or older fall each year. About one fall in 10 results in a serious injury, like a hip fracture. Roughly 20 percent of older people who suffer a hip fracture die within a year.

All parties involved are interested in preventing falls before they happen. With the use of unobtrusive sensors in carpeting, clothing and rooms, medical personal can track movements that will give clues to an elder's fall risk.

In clinical settings, wearable sensors and wireless sensors embedded in carpets are used to measure precisely a person’s walking speed, stride length, step width and body sway — all variables in assessing the risk of falling.

The information gathered can then be used to determine whether a person's balance is deteriorating, and help clinicians decide what the best intervention would be. Would it be a specialized exercise program targeted at strengthening specific muscles, or would it be an adjustment in a person's medication to reduce dizziness or prevent them from getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom?

The sensors track only motion, not what people are doing. The greatest benefit of this technology would be allowing older people to live independently in their homes longer.

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Posted by linda at November 9, 2009 8:26 AM

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