Each year, more than 1.6 million seniors are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fall-related injuries caused by incidents such as slipping on a wet bathroom floor, loss of balance on stairs, or tripping on a throw rug. According to the U.S National Institute on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury-related deaths, among older adults in the United States.
Statistics show that 60 percent of fall-related deaths occur among people 65 and older. Falls are the No. 1 cause of injury-related death for males 80 and older and for females 75 and older. One-fourth of those who sustain a hip fracture die within one year and another 50 percent never return to their prior level of mobility or independence.
Falls among the elderly are often due to decreasing awareness of the body’s relationship to its surroundings.
Studies have found that sensitivity to foot position declines as people age. Researchers at Stanford conceived that a device which could help simulate this lost sensitivity would help individuals maintain their balance without relying on cumbersome or ineffective support devices, such as walkers or canes.
Graduate engineering students at Stanford University working under the direction of a professor of mechanical engineering and orthopedic surgery, recently developed a “smart” ankle brace for the elderly to correct imbalances and prevent falling.
Their invention is an ankle brace containing a smart chip that continuously monitors the roll of the ankle. If the chip detects a roll that is greater than normal, it provides a correctional vibration. This vibration helps the wearer change position or shift balance to avoid a fall in much the same way that sensory nerves provide correctional feedback to the brain. With the assistance of this unique device, society can hope to see a decline in the association of fatal falls and the elderly.