New Apps Monitor Falls in Seniors

For elderly patients, falls are equal parts common, dangerous, and costly. Indeed, per the National Council on Aging (NCOA), they “are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries” among Americans 65 and older. They impact about a quarter of seniors each year, and accounted for about $34 billion in health care costs in 2013, per NCOA. What’s more, falls are often indicative of underlying health care conditions in need of provider attention. Luckily for patients and providers alike, a new wearable tool developed by researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) could help to remotely alert providers of issues with a patient’s mobility, allowing for quick intervention if necessary. As mHealth Intelligence and others first reported, the collection of apps allows health care professionals to keep track of changes in a patient’s mobility via smartphone—crucial for patients who still live independently, per UAH, as research has shown “that small changes in the time required and the intensity of common everyday motions can be early indicators of health issues such as stroke or falls.”

The tool was developed by UAH faculty members Dr. Emil Jovanov and Dr. Aleksandar Milenkovic, in conjunction with two of their doctoral students. To use it, a patient dons a chest harness, into which an Android phone with the tracking software is placed. “The patented software interfaces use sensors already built into the smartphone to create a device that is a sensor, recorder, and communicator of mobility and stability data,” UAH explains in a press release. All patient data is then sent to the UAH mHealth server, where patients’ electronic health records are located. The device also integrates Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tests of patient mobility and balance.

Said Jovanov, who heads up the UAH mHealth laboratory with Milenkovic, and whose research has long focused on the use of wearable sensors to remotely monitor patients, “We wanted to have something everyone could use in the comfort of their own home.” (Indeed, various studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of seniors and soon-to-be-seniors today would prefer to age in place, rather than in a nursing home or other facility, for as long as possible.) He also highlighted the importance of focusing on patient mobility: “The reason we especially want to prevent falls is because in the elderly, a fall often triggers a downward spiral of declining health,” he noted. Next, Jovanov and Milenkovic are focused on expanding the range of wearable and other “smart” Internet of Things (IoT) devices available to seniors wanting to stay independent; among them, per the UAH press release, are a “smart water bottle” designed to help patients stay hydrated and a pill bottle that can provide medication reminders.

Click here for the article from mHealth Intelligence on the mobility tool developed at UAH.

Click here for the news article from UAH on the new mobility tool.

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