Texas Tech creates early warning system for fall-risk patients

August 22, 2012 By Karin Slyker

Engineers at Texas Tech University are developing technology that can predict when a person might fall – even days in advance.

The researchers have created a prototype wireless sensor, small enough to be clipped to a belt, which analyzes posture and gait, and sends an alert when there is a break in routine.

“The concern is significant because a simple fall could prove deadly,” said Donald Lie, Keh-Shew Lu Regents Chair Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas Tech and an adjunct professor in the Department of Surgery at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC).

Lie and Tim Dallas, a Texas Tech microelectromechanical (MEMS) researcher and associate professor, along with a team of clinicians from the TTUHSC: Dr. Ron Banister, Dr. Andrew Dentino, Dr. Tam Nguyen, and Dr. Steven Zupancic, are collaborating with Texas Instruments on the multidisciplinary research. Technology like this could benefit not only the geriatric community but patients with balance issues from disorders such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy or dementia.

The first step is to build a database of the subject’s normal movements, including standing up and sitting. A significant future variation would then indicate instability, warning that a fall may be imminent.

“The alert may be attributed to muscular or visionary changes, or even due to drug interaction,” Lie said.

A team of medical clinicians receives the real-time patient data through wireless sensors made up of accelerometers and gyroscopes, Lie said. Their goal is to identify changes to posture and gait through sophisticated algorithms, analyzing a pattern that would indicate risk.

“It’s a complicated phenomenon,” Lie said. “We hope someday we will be able to tell the patient, ‘Sir, please be careful maybe in the next several hours or days ahead.’”

Placement of the sensor will require additional consideration, Lie said. The technology is small enough to be clipped to a belt, an accessory often omitted by the geriatric population and preferably near the T-4 region at the back (between the shoulder blades). A secondary option might be a pressure sensor insole that could also help acquire additional gait analysis. Conversely, one needs to be cautious as the device could also trigger a fall.

This research on “fall-risk identification and assessment using body worn sensors” has recently been approved by a TTUHSC Institutional Review Board, which is a committee formally designated to approve biomedical and behavioral research involving humans. From there, the technology could prove useful in various capacities, from the geriatric community to vestibular (balance) research.

“There is a lot of research going on in this area,” Lie said. “We are humbled as we move slowly and methodically toward creating something useful.”

Explore further: Device helps with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome detection

Related Stories

Device helps with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome detection

May 9, 2012
University of Texas at Arlington researchers have obtained a patent for a device aimed at saving babies’ lives through improved and rapid detection of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Period drama! Pop culture makes menstruation 'overly traumatic'

July 12, 2012
A study by the University of Melbourne has raised concerns about Hollywood’s treatment of menstruation, and whether it’s frightening girls into believing it is worse than the reality.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.