Fall prevention: the technology–and Dutch–cures

The ‘Holy Grail’ of fall detection is, of course, fall prevention. The CDC statistics for the US are well known: One in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. Every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults–2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths. In 2014, the total cost of fall injuries was $31 billion. In the UK, AgeUK‘s stats are that falls represent the most frequent and serious type of accident in people aged 65 and over, the main cause of disability and the leading cause of death from injury among those aged 75+. 

The technology ‘cures’ as noted in this NextAvenue/Forbes article centers around predicting if and when a person will fall.

  • The ‘overall’ approach, which is constant monitoring of ADLs through activity sensing and modeling/machine learning to detect early signs of decline or health change. Companies in this area are Care Innovations’ QuietCare (sensor arrays) and CarePredict (wrist worn).
  • Gait detection. Relatively small changes in gait and walking speed are an accurate, fast, and straightforward indicator of fall risk. Ten years of research performed at TigerPlace in Missouri showed that people whose gait slowed by 5 centimeters per second within a week had an 86% probability of falling during the next three weeks. Shortening of stride had a 50 percent probability of fall within three weeks.
  • Read the brain. Research at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in NYC indicates that in otherwise high-functioning older people, high levels of frontal brain activity while walking and talking can predict higher long term fall risk, up to 32 percent.
  • Balance impairment. Tests using VR to simulate falling in healthy subjects and tracking their muscular response also could be used to roadmap a person’s balance impairments and future fall risk–along with training and targeted physical rehabilitation.

The Netherlands has taken this last point and gone ‘low tech’ with physical training courses that teach older adults both not to fall and to fall correctly if they do. Students negotiate obstacle courses and uneven surfaces, then learn to fall properly on thick inflated mats. Many of those attending use walkers or canes, but complete the courses which reduce the fear of falling or getting up–and provide both fun and socialization. The courses have become popular enough that they are government rated with insurance often defraying the cost. New York Times

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