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Safety Net for Fall-Prone Elderly

Safety Net for Fall-Prone Elderly

Photo: Portrait of an old man

Injuries caused by falls among the elderly range from mild scrapes and bruises to serious complications requiring long-term treatment. Nine out of ten hip fractures, for example, occur in people over 50. “Falls and other mobility problems have a major societal and economic impact,” says Lorenzo Chiari, a researcher at the University of Bologna, Italy. “For the elderly, there is not only the risk of physical injury but also the psychological trauma falling causes and the long-term effects mobility problems have on quality of life. For healthcare systems, the costs of treating injuries caused by falls are only going to escalate as Europe’s population ages.”

In Chiari’s view, new technology offers a solution. Just as advances in sensing devices and wireless communications are allowing doctors to monitor their patients’ vital signs remotely through so-called telecare and telemedicine systems, similar technology can be used to monitor, prevent and detect mobility problems.

The approach involves using a wearable, wireless-enabled device equipped with motion sensors to monitor people susceptible to falls. The information can then be used to help patients perform rehabilitation exercises to improve their balance and mobility, evaluate the progression of a disorder or, crucially, alert emergency services, doctors or relatives in the event of a fall.

“Falls in which a person does not get up, so-called unrecovered falls, are usually a sign that they need immediate assistance. But detecting them remotely is not easy. The main challenge is developing a software algorithm that can differentiate between an unrecovered fall and something less serious,” Chiari explains.

The software is able to detect unrecovered falls with a high degree of accuracy and send an SMS or e-mail alert immediately, according to the researchers. It is embedded in the same compact device, designed to be worn around the waist, which also contains the gyroscopes and accelerometers used to carry out the motion and position sensing. Bluetooth or Zigbee wireless communications technology connects it to the user or doctor’s computer and, via an internet connection, to a secure database and server.

MEDICA.de; Source: ICT Results

 
 

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