Sensors: Safety, Walking, Mobility and Fall Detection

Fall detection sensors help senior citizens by informing alerts.

  • We need the ability to call for help when we fall.  Medical alert systems allow our elderly to call for help via button, or a phone.   Alert systems are bigger than fall detection.

Mobility sensors help senior citizens to track health progress, by monitoring walking, over time.

  • We also like to track our health and aging, so we can do something to influence our quality of life.  Mobility, walking, and gait are indicators for our health and our aging progress.  Walking changes can be both a symptom and a cause.  Mobility sensors and the same as fall detection, but you can see the context here is different that Alert System.

We’ve moved long past “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”, and there sure are still a lot of big red buttons as solutions for elderly.

1. WHO needs a fall detection or mobility sensor?

Anyone who may be a risk of falling.    Anyone who has a reason to monitor their changes in walking either as a cause or a symptom.  

We see changes in mobility as we continue to age, and they can be slow or fast changes.  A big medical event can alter mobility quickly.  We see slow mobility changes associated with the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.  Do you feel like you shuffle-walk different than you used to?  Do you worry about how you might fall?  If things are changing quickly or slowly, how does that affect what you need for safety?

2. WHAT is a fall detection or mobility sensor?

Pendant and environment are the two kinds sensors.

These sensors have the ability to assess your movement, and are able interpret whether you are walking normally (for you), and haven’t fallen.

  • \Pendant sensor you wear on your person (like a pendant).  Sometimes we call these fall detection necklaces.
  • Environment sensors that are on the walls or under your mattress.

Often, personal and environment sensors will work together.  Pendent sensors should offer standard wearable technology including heart rate, and location just like fitbit.

In a way, the Haven App is a using your phone as the most sensitive environment sensor because it detects motion, sound or light disruption.

3. WHERE do people use mobility sensors or fall detection devices today?

In your house, your mom’s house, your brother’s place, or at an assisted living or nursing facility.  

The coolest facility implementation program i can find is where Mobility sensors are being used at Tiger Place in Missouri (thanks to MU).  Tiger Place is a secure assisted living facility.  AgingMo.com, is their a centralized online home, with Sinclair School of Nursing and University of Missouri’s Aging in Place being the power behind these programs.  You can read more about their agenda for Technology and Aging  in homes and facilities of their customers.  Seriously we should all move to Missouri they have some serious aging game going on.

On the direct to consumer side, Philips  is offering mobility sensors for purchase as part of their fall detection product suite.  They have some good material on their site that makes me feel like they really understand the needs of the market here, and I wonder how well this works.  Their more modern wearable focus indicates a more rounded focus on mobility instead of just alert.

You can find mobility sensors in your SHOES! as French shoe company e-vone has developed! I am loving this.  It feels so much more than fall detection and more like mobility sensor.

On the more traditional medical alert side, there are the blogs and blogs of best fall detection sensors with their finalists huddling around Medical Guardian, Lifecall, and Medical alert.  I’m also finding Great Call as a fall detection solution, as well as LifeFone.  I can’t tell paid content from unpaid content these days – research them all!  Price point, cellular requirements, power requirements, type of monitoring and alert needed, requirements for 24/7 support would all be considerations for comparison.

The National institute of Health has an article from 2013 on fall detection, and one from 2015 on wearable sensor based fall detection.   Give me more stuff with sensors, company people!  I am loving all of this.  We love safety around here.

4.  WHEN would I want a mobility sensor instead of just a fall detection device?

To gather biometric data, assess mobility, identify falls, to help with alerting caregivers.  

The moibily sensor device is more specifically designed to learn how you move (gait and balance), and if something changes it will notice.  “I used to walk smoothly, but now I am limping”.  Changes in mobility could indicate that I have another medical event concurrently.   Companies are betting on mobility as a tell for other illness. This is more than just fall detection.

APMD is using wearable technology to support diagnostic research in their mobility lab.  By understanding changes to mobility.  we may be able to benchmark mobility as an indicator for overall health.  This is still in the research phase, but considering  mobility as biomarker for health is pretty exciting for those of us who are aging (i mean everyone).

The MU research at Tiger Place, Sinclair at Home, and the Sinclair School of Nursing have formed, spun off or are competing with a company called Foresite Health Care. They have lots of information about their products on the site, describing how mobility sensors are able to discern falling from kneeling.  They did testing with stunt actors, and dogs jumping off the couch enable accurately diagnosing a fall!  But where are the articles showing people using their sensors in real life?

Shifting now to how to help caregivers and nurses, Alert Fatigue negatively affects both caregivers and nursing stations.  The more calls nurses, or caregivers get, the more commotion and emotional burden they experience during their workday.  This emotional burden is Alert Fatigue.   If you are able to narrow alert events to be the issues that need support and make sure you have the right response, there is less stress on all the participants.

I found this mystery product that may or may not exist which looks like a dream system, which is exactly why I am calling it vaporwear.  The also look like they never actually made it because they have NO social presence, no product in stock and a LOT of great logos.  If you guys are still out there, update your product so we can check it out, it sounds amazing! If its too good to be true and there isn’t any heat behind it, I am not interested.

5. WHY would I need a mobility or fall detection sensor ?

If I’m worried about falling or walking, and am concerned that I need more than my phone to call for help, I would focus on medical alert fall detection. If I can call for help on my cell phone, but am interested in changes in how I walk, then I would evaluate mobility sensors.   

You can use this information with your medical support team.  I mean your doctor, family, friend, nurse station, or a health care organization or provider.

This market is still growing.  If we get some more momentum about seeing mobility as an indicator for overall health, that could juice this scene.  Let’s all ask our doctors to get us into mobility labs to establish baselines.