Every year, 1 in 3 adults aged 65 and over in the US experiences a fall. In 2010 alone, 2.3 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults resulted in emergency department visits, and 662,000 of these patients were hospitalized. But a study by researchers from Purdue University details how a smartphone could prevent falls from occurring.
The Purdue team, including Babak Ziaie, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, will present their findings at the International Society for Posture & Gait Research 2014 World Congress in Canada next month.
The researchers explain that people with slower gait (the pattern of walking) speeds and irregular stride patterns are more likely to fall. But they note that at present, there is no way of measuring this information as individuals go about their daily routines.
As such, the team created a portable smartphone tool - called SmartGait - that is worn on the waist and can measure a person's gait length (the distance between the tip of the front foot to the tip of the back foot), gait width (the distance between each foot) and walking speed.
To create the device, the researchers took a standard smartphone with a downward-looking wide-angled lens and added an app that enables the phone to record and calculate a user's gait measurements. The app records gait measurements through colored "foot markers" worn on the tip of each shoe.
Device 'will help health care professionals assess patients' fall risk'
To test the effectiveness of SmartGait, the team compared it with a "gold standard" laboratory system that measures gait using sensors and infrared-emitting diodes.
The researchers say the SmartGait device should help health care professionals better assess patients and recommend measures that may prevent falls.
Image credit: Purdue University/Mark Simons
They report that the smartphone tool was able to calculate a person's step length with 95% accuracy and width length with 90% accuracy.
Ziaie says he became interested in this area of research after his grandfather suffered a fall and broke his hip. He later passed away as a result of his injuries.
The team believes this new device may help reduce the occurrence of falls, not only for elderly individuals, but for those who have conditions that affect their balance, such as Parkinson's disease.
They explain that health care professionals could use the information from the SmartGait device to better assess patients and recommend measures that may prevent a fall, such as physical therapy, exercise or vision correction. In addition, they say the patient could wear the device over time so a health care professional can determine their walking confidence.
"The beauty of SmartGait is that it gives you results similar to a system that costs several tens of thousands of dollars. People can wear it walking upstairs, downstairs, outside, shopping, whatever they do during a normal day," says Ziaie."We believe this device will be highly beneficial for researchers and clinicians who conduct gait assessments in the field," he continues. "Reducing the fall rate has so many benefits - preventing injuries, minimizing pain, maintaining independence and saving lives."
The team says they have a filed a US patent application for the device through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the BMJ, which claimed that exercise may prevent fall-related injuries in older adults.
Written by Honor Whiteman