The key to preventing falls around the home might just be a pocket-sized solution away

Jan 16, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

As we gracefully step into our golden years, it’s no secret that our ability to maintain balance isn’t quite what it used to be.

Nearly 1 in 3 older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months, with 1 in 5 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.

Fortunately, there’s a glimmer of good news – researchers at Binghamton University have come across a potential solution, and it happens to be an item most of us have in our pockets every day: our smartphones.

The study, led by Vipul Lugade, an associate professor of physical therapy, aims to revolutionise fall prevention using the humble smartphone.

“We can use a phone not just for evaluation, but for delivering intervention. In this case, we can ask somebody to stand still with the phone in their pocket, or record standing while looking straight ahead. The phone itself will use accelerometers to see how much body sway is happening,” Lugade said.

“The scale is tiny. We can actually look at this amount of movement and figure out how stable the person is while standing.”

Lugade highlights that “the ability to do two tasks at the same time is compromised as you get older. Older adults have an inability to either allocate attention to both tasks simultaneously or have an inability to switch between tasks.”

The MARL intervention study, launched in June 2022, delves into these issues using cutting-edge equipment such as a 12-camera motion analysis system, a Biodex System Dynamometer, a Portable GAITRite System, and eye-tracking glasses. The star of the show is the Computerised Dynamic Posturography (CDP) system, which measures “postural sway” to analyse foot pressure, force, and motor reactions while the user stands on a locked or moving platform.

By utilising this advanced motion-capture gear, researchers examined gait speed and balance. Improvements in gait speed, particularly, have been linked to a reduction in the risk of falls. If participants show improvement after using the smartphone-based program, it could be deemed clinically effective.

Encouragingly, out of the 31 participants, 29 completed all exercises and tests, showcasing a high completion rate with virtually no difference between electronic and paper applications. Suzanne O’Brien, the second co-principal investigator and an associate professor of physical therapy, affirms that  “the app is a viable alternative to paper and can be safely used to deliver balance interventions to a person’s phone.”

“We want to take some next steps to use the app to deliver exercises and prevent falls in older adults in this [rural] area,” O’Brien said.

“Later on, we’d like to do the same in some patient groups, such as Parkinson’s Disease and stroke.”

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.


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