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Assistive Technology (AT) and Falls

In 2009, the CDC reported that 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries were treated in emergency rooms, and 26 percent of those falls required hospitalization. Falls are the biggest reason why seniors wind up in nursing homes, with with one in three adults 65 and older falling every year, according to the CDC. About one-quarter of seniors who suffer hip fractures die in the year following a fall, according to Cayuga Medical Center.

It is obvious that we need to prevent falls if we can and detect falls as quickly as possible to reduce the impact of fall-related injury. Can AT help in this critical health issue?

Preventing Falls and AT

First Some Tips from the Mayo Clinic

  • Check with your doctor for medical and medication factors that increase your likelihood of falling and increase the damage you could experience if you do fall.
  • Keep Moving! Check Tai Chi as a way to maintain and improve balance at Wear Sensible shoes
  • Remove hazards (loose rugs, barriers to movement, etc.)
  • Add lots of light to where you live
  • Use AT!

Some basic examples of AT for fall prevention include:

Some other ways to use AT to prevent falls:

  • Using motion to turn on lights
  • Using a clear shower curtain to support body orientation
  • Color contrast on steps
  • Use hip protectors if you have osteoporosis (see resources)

Fall Detection and AT

Home-level Fall Prevention
  • Using motion to turn on lights
  • Using a clear shower curtain to support body orientation
  • Color contrast on steps
  • Use hip protectors if you have osteoporosis (see resources)

Fall Detection and AT

Home-level Fall Prevention

There is a burgeoning industry in systems that detect falls anywhere in the home, and Rating Labs has reviews of the major systems. All these systems cost money-installation and subscription fees-and they typically send notification to a staffed monitoring services.

Personal apps

Because smartphones and tablets have become part of our daily lives more and more, there is a growing list of phone and tablet apps that detect falls. Some were begun to market to people whose exercise activities put them at risk for falls, such as mountain bikers. Others were developed specifically for older people and others who might have higher risk for falls, such as people with ataxia. Personal apps can detect falls wherever you are, since you carry the app in your phone or tablet.

The device needs an accelerometer and a GPS chip to make it practically useful in detecting falls and warning someone that you have fallen. Obviously, you need to be in a place where there is mobile service. Typically the app works by detecting your fall, giving you time to turn off the warning, and sending an email or text message to someone (or in some cases several people) with a note that you have fallen and that you are located at specific GPS coordinates. All of the current ones available need to be considered “beta” apps. That is, they are still in development.

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