New smart sock to help prevent ‘devastating’ falls among older adults

Mar 23, 2023
As we grow older, our susceptibility to falls significantly rises. Source: Getty Images.

Thanks to the ingenuity of experts at Nottingham Trent University, a new smart sock has been developed that can alert older individuals to the increased risk of falls.

The prototype over-sock can detect near-falls with over 94 percent accuracy, providing crucial information to caregivers and professionals who can take action to prevent an actual fall from occurring.

The over-sock contains a small motion sensor embedded at the ankle and can be linked to an internet-enabled device such as a phone via a detachable microcontroller that uses Bluetooth. Despite containing an electronic circuit, the over-sock is comfortable to wear as the technology is too small to be felt by the wearer. Additionally, the motion sensor is protected by a resin coating, ensuring the sock can still be washed as normal.

By analysing the data collected by the sensor, an algorithm can identify any unusual movements and distinguish between a fall and a near-fall. The aim is for the technology to notify emergency responders in the event of an actual fall, potentially saving lives.

Human trials of the device found that the over-sock is highly effective, accurately detecting falls 99.4 percent of the time and near-falls 94.2 percent of the time. The findings of this research have been published in the academic journal Electronic Textile Materials.

As we age, our risk of falls increases significantly. Falls can lead to serious injuries, including hip fractures, head injuries, and even death.

Nearly one in three older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months, with one in five required hospitalisations. Although not all falls result in injury, the incident can often result in a person losing confidence in their own abilities and withdrawing from life to avoid the risk of suffering a fall again.

Dr Theodore Hughes-Riley of the Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG) at Nottingham School of Art & Design is all too familiar with the impacts falls can have on older adults, stating that it can be “devastating to the quality of life of older people”.

“And with a rise in the ageing population, falls will only continue to have a significant impact on older people, causing loss of confidence and increased frailty,” Hughes- Riley said.

“Only an estimated third of older people return to independent living following a hip fracture, for instance, which is a common injury to occur after a fall.

“So being able to detect near-falls will allow older people and their carers to take action before a potentially life-changing fall happens.”

The research findings represent the culmination of the PhD studies conducted by Zahra Rahemtulla who stressed that “as well as detecting near-falls, it is important that the technology can raise the alarm when somebody has had an actual fall and badly injured themselves.”

“When an older person experiences a fall, they can be left unconscious or immobile on the floor for a long period of time and unable to call for help,” Rahemtulla said.

“So by alerting carers and medical professionals to falls in real time, older people will be able to receive the treatment that they may badly need, which could help save lives.”


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

Stories that matter
Emails delivered daily
Sign up