Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The ability to detect changes in an elderly person´s gait could be important in preventing dangerous trips and falls that can severely impact their health and quality of life.
Using plastic optical fibers on the underlay of a carpet, researchers have developed just such an ability in what´s being called a ℠magic carpet´.
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom will present the results of their work at the country´s Photon 12 conference this week in Durham. Their presentation will focus on how the team utilized techniques similar to those found in hospital scanners to create two-dimensional visuals of footprints and walking habits of people who tread across the carpet´s surface.
According to Patricia Scully from The University of Manchester’s Photon Science Institute, the new rug could help immediately after a fall, but also in preventing them by spotting subtle changes in a person´s walking habits that might go unnoticed by family members or care-givers.
“The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person’s condition; from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition,” Scully said.
One of the benefits of the new technology is that it doesn´t require any intensive installations that could deter potential users from adopting it.
“The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living space to adapt as the occupiers’ needs evolve — particularly relevant with an aging population and for those with long term disabilities — and incorporated non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress or wall that a patient interacts with,” Scully added.
With an aging population in many Western nations, preventative care of the elderly will only grow in importance. Currently, between 30 and 40 percent of seniors living in the community fall each year, which accounts for 50 percent of hospital admissions in the over-65 set.
“Falls are a really important problem for our ageing society,” said University of Manchester professor Chris Todd, who also leads the Prevention of Falls Network Europe organization. “More than a third of older people fall each year, and in nursing and residential homes it is much more common than that.”
“Older people will benefit from exercises to improve balance and muscle strength in the legs,” the professor added. “So being able to identify changes in people’s walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a corridor in a nursing home, could really help us identity problems earlier on.”
“This is really exciting work at the forefront of research using technologies to prevent falls and represents an unique collaboration between scientists from different backgrounds working together to identity a smart solution to an important problem for our country and indeed all over the world,” he said.
Another British research group has shown that an intensive exercise program for at-risk seniors that includes strength training, balance and aerobic activities such as dance or tai chi, can help prevent falls.