Smart Belt Monitors Balance To Prevent Falls By Elderly Patients

Motion sensors can now help detect anomalies in senior’s walking behavior to warn of future risks.

For those who are elderly or suffer from inner-ear conditions, a day-to-day fear is the loss of balance which with age can lead to serious injuries. But the engineers at Texas Tech have figured out how to prevent that risk before it arises with belt-sized wireless sensors that analyze particular posture and walking habits, and signal any physiological anomalies that might put someone at risk.

By using the same accelerometer and gyroscope technology that tells your iPad to swing from landscape to portrait at the twist of your hand, this wearable device can keep people from losing their footing. These balancing technologies already bring us improved navigation, airbag deployment systems and digital audio equipment, and are used in everything from airplanes to OnStar. They have also become a fundamental part of everyday products from tablets to gaming hardware from Nintendo and PlayStation. Already fully integrated into our lives through personal computing and gaming, this technology is now being extended to healthcare where it can make a real difference in improving quality of life and even aid in saving lives.

As many Quantified Self proponents have found, the task of collecting enough data to inform algorithms and determine risk patterns can be daunting. By using this small device that can be seamlessly integrated into everyday behaviors patients and doctors can build up a baseline of information to help inform patients of their behaviors. Dr Lie and his team of multidisciplinary researchers have created the small sensor device that can be clipped onto a waistband and work in unison with pressure sensitive insole to track patients gait, tilt and swerve. The information can then be transmitted wirelessly to technicians for analysis. This helps healthcare providers find the clues that will caution patients if customary patterns are broken. “It’s a complicated phenomenon,” Lie said. “We hope someday we will be able to tell the patient, ‘Sir, please be careful maybe in the next several hours or days ahead.’”

These developments will hopefully make life more manageable for people with balance disorders, including those whose condition has been brought on by diseases such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and dementia, and will hopefully aid family members of the elderly who are concerned about potentially fatal falls.

Texas Tech

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Images via: KQED & Business Wire

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