New Device for Falls Assessment

Many seniors have probably taken the “Timed Up and Go” (TUG) test, which involves rising from a chair and walking approximately 10 feet (three meters), turning and walking back, and then sitting again in the chair. According to the CDC, an older adult who takes 12 seconds or more to complete the test is at high risk for falls.

The test is so simple to administer that anyone with a stop-watch could assess the results; the downside is the measure is a relatively crude binary: will fall/won’t fall. Irish healthcare start-up Kinesis Health Technologies is now selling a device that will allow medical providers a fuller understanding of what is happening in their patient’s bodies.

Called QTUG for Quantitative Timed Up and Go, it’s a wireless sensing system that gives an objective measurement of a patient’s mobility by comparing it to the norm for persons of the same age and gender. Most importantly, the stored information could be used to compare deterioration in the patient’s own balance and gait over time.

For a patient, the only change from a standard TUG is that before you take the test, small wireless sensors are strapped to your shins. Via Bluetooth, they transmit specific details of your walk, such as shifts in weight and speed, to a tablet computer equipped with read by your medical provider.

The QTUG system. Image courtesy: Kinesis Health Technologies

The QTUG system, courtesy: Kinesis Health Technologies. Click on the image to expand.

For more information on falls and fall prevention, see the CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) toolkit, which has downloadable resources for medical providers that can also be of interest to seniors and their families.


Re-thinking fall prevention

The poisonous plants of the decorating world. Beautiful, but deadly.

Area Rugs, the poisonous plants of interior decoration. Like Oleander, beautiful but deadly.

We trust that you all know that if you’re concerned with fall prevention, you don’t want area rugs in your home. But even if, like Sleeping Beauty’s parents and spindles, you eliminate every area rug you can, the world is still full of curbs, ice and other risks, so your best defense is strengthening your own balance. To that end, Clive Pei, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the  University of Illinois in Chicago, is making seniors fall.

The idea, as explained in this AP article with optional video, is a new take on balance-training: Instead of general muscle conditioning, it lets people practice catching themselves before a fall. Participants train on a mechanized version of an area rug: a moving walkway that is programmed to slide and cause falls. Because they are wearing safety harnesses, they never fall far enough to injure themselves, but the repeated falling motion lets them continuously reinforce the instinctive movements to stop a fall. The study, located in Chicago, is currently recruiting participants.

Of course, you could just buy a cane, but yeah, we know, makes ya look old. Well, if you fear such an accessory might make you seem less than fully virile, we found (oh Internet!) one made from, er, blush, “the reproductive organ of a bull.” For the ladies, bling it on!

GaitAid in Clinical Trial for Falls

The training device GaitAid is already being used to help improve locomotion for those with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Now, a clinical trial is enrolling subjects to test whether it might also help prevent falls in the elderly. According to the CDC, falls are “the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries” in older adults.

GaitAid is actually a miniature augmented reality system, created by Technion computer science professor Yoram Baram. He had seen a news report describing how Parkinson’s patients were able to walk much more naturally on tile floors, with their high contrast patterns, than on monochrome floors. With his experience developing virtual reality systems for NASA, he set about creating a simple VR system that could reproduce the effect.

The GaitAid headpiece looks more like stylish sunglasses than a clunky VR visor; it connects to a pager-sized unit whose motion sensors dynamically superimpose a black-and-white tile pattern as the patient walks along. Headphones amplify the patient’s steps, giving feedback to re-enforce a proper a proper rhythm.

Currently, GaitAid, available for $1995 online, is being used by patients to practice stride length and rhythm in order to restore a more normal walking pattern and reduce “freezing,” a Parkinson’s condition in which the legs don’t respond to the brain’s signal to walk.

Now, Technion and Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City have teamed up to determine whether GaitAid might also help in fall prevention. The trial is extremely simple: Participants will be asked to walk without aid, then walk using GaitAid, and then asked to walk again, unaided. Researchers will evaluate whether the brief time using GaitAid made a discernible, helpful difference.

Information on participating in the trial can be found here.