SciTech

Sensors developed to detect senior citizens at risk of falling

For people coming from a healthy family background, the instinct to care for one’s parents as they get older is natural. Some check in with their elderly parents daily and frequently visit.

A major concern many Americans have is that their parents will injure themselves and no one will know to send help, and a survey conducted by Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering confirms that Americans worry a lot about the elderly falling down.

The survey found that 54 percent of the 1,900 U.S. adults sampled are worried about an older parent falling. 44 percent of respondents said they or a sibling check in on a parent daily, while 33 percent said they or a sibling check in every week. 12 percent said they stop by as needed, 56 percent said that neighbors or staff check on their parent daily, and 27 percent said someone visits every week.

81 percent of respondents expressed an interest in new sensor technology to anticipate and prevent falls. In response to this, Pei Zhang, associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Hae Young Noh, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, are developing active fall-prevention sensors that can be placed in senior care facilities and private homes.

The sensors can detect the physical, surrounding environment and monitor an individual’s walking gait, dizziness, and level of fatigue. It can alert both the individual and caretaker if their gait changes drastically, anticipating the fall and preventing it from happening by helping the individual realize their limitations.

Ultimately this allows for more independence by allowing them to maintain their mobility in a healthy way for longer periods of time.

“Many older adults in senior care facilities are restricted to wheelchairs when not under the direct care of a nurse, but this technology could allow them to regain some of their independence,” said Noh in a university press release. Her sensors are currently being tested at Vincentian Home in Pittsburgh and Lucas Physical Therapy and Fitness in Sunnyvale, California.

While the sensors can anticipate and detect falls through vibration of footsteps, they can also give a mobile alert emergency services after the fall.

“Our sensors are designed to predict and anticipate falls so individuals can worry less about their parents with the knowledge that our technology will discover their parents are not walking the way they normally do, whether because of medication or because they’ve become fatigued,” Zhang said in the same university press release. These sensors have many commercial applications, and have the potential to dramatically increase an elderly individual’s quality of life. They give the elderly more independence, and can give peace of mind to people worried about their parents falling.