Fall prevention: Wireless sensors to the rescue?

By Brian Dolan
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iShoeAccording to the CDC, one in three people 65-years-old and older fall each year, and more than 300,000 hip fractures occur each year, mostly caused by falls. Also, one in five people die within a year of breaking their hip. As we have noted before, wireless sensors can play a big role in fall prevention. Hospitals are currently testing the $100 iShoe for some patients; AT&T, Texas Instruments and New York-based start-up, 24Eight have teamed up to test their own "smart soles" for fall prevention; UCLA start-up MediSens plans to use real-time wireless monitoring technology to develop body monitoring systems that help diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy, which causes a loss of sensation in the foot, and other patients with health issues that affect their balance.

The New York Times reports that a five year study on the effectiveness of wireless sensors and other fall prevention technologies has been underway at the Oregan Center for Aging and Technology, sponsored by Intel and the Oregon Health and Science University. Patients in the study fill out weekly self-assessments about their activity and overall health, but once a year they also undergo physical and cognitive evaluations. Some of the patients believe wireless sensors in their home are not obstrusive or an invasion of their privacy because they only track motion -- not what they are doing specifically.

"The initial five-year study, begun in 2006 and financed by the National Institute on Aging, involves 230 volunteers, whose mean age is 84. In each home, wireless sensors are placed in rooms and hallways linked to a personal computer connected to the Internet, allowing a person’s activity to be monitored steadily. The cost of the sensors is $200 or less.

"Activity patterns from the data, said Dr. Kaye, director of the aging and technology center, can help identify ways to prevent falls. The motion sensors may show that a person with congestive heart failure, for example, is getting up from bed often at night to go to the bathroom. If the heart problem is under control, Dr. Kaye said, it may well be a good idea to reduce the dose of the person’s diuretic, trading a little bit of ankle swelling for a good night’s sleep — and far less risk of falling."

Read the entire report from the New York Times here