In our last post we talked about how falls are common but can be prevented with some simple interventions (click here to read that post). In this post we will discuss 3 ways in which technology may also be used to combat falls in the not-so-distant future.
Wearable technologies are a rapidly growing area. Wearable technologies are where everyday items of clothing and accessories become digitalized and ‘smart’. These can include smart watches like the Apple iWatch, smart wristbands like Fitbit, or smart glasses like Google glass. These seemingly futuristic gadgets are becoming increasingly common. In 2014, PwC reported that 1 in 5 Americans owns a wearable technology and 1 in 10 wear it every day. Much of this wearable technology is targeted at improving our health with 34 million shipments of healthcare-related wearables last year alone. Some interesting work has already been done on using wearable technology to prevent falls in older people. For example, there was the iShoethat was developed by a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This shoe with its high-tech sensors created a lot of media attention back in 2010 but unfortunately nothing is yet to come of it. Wearable technology could be used to detect predictable causes of falls such as low blood sugar or abnormal heart rhythms and warn the wearer. Indeed, Google have teamed up with pharmaceutical company Novartis to produce a smart contact lens that can measure blood sugar and record the measurement on a smart phone. It will be exciting to see what else this growing area develops to help older adults be free from falls.
One downside of wearable technologies is that you have to be actually wearing the gadget for them to work. An alternative is the ‘smart home’. This is where technology is placed around the home to monitor the local environment that aims to improve the experience of living at home. The University of Manchester is developing the iMagiMat which is a ‘magic carpet’ that that not only detects when someone has fallen but can also monitor changes in gait that can predict a fall and prevent it by informing the person or their carer. Other technologies that are being developed include sensors around the home that detect fall hazards such as slippery wet floors and provide a warning by connecting with an app on a smart phone.
Despite all these inventions there is no silver bullet that will completely stop older people from falling. Plenty of technology has been developed using sensors and alarms to let loved ones or carers know when a fall does happen. However, one piece of technology goes one step further and detects when an individual is falling and within a split second deploys a personal airbag that protects the hips from breaking in the fall. This is particularly important as hip fractures are the leading cause of injury and death from falls. As Drew Lakatos, engineer and entrepreneur, points out in this video, it’s time we started thinking beyond just prevention to “intelligent protection of our elderly” for when these accidents do happen.