Study uses video-game device with goal of preventing patient falls

March 18, 2014

Technology used in video games is making its way to hospital rooms, where researchers at the University of Missouri hope to learn new ways to prevent falls among hospital patients.

Between 700,000 and 1 million people each year fall in U.S. hospitals, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Hospitals nationwide are looking for ways to reduce that number.

"Since 2008, we've investigated ways to detect and prevent falls by older adults living in independent senior apartments," said Marilyn Rantz, PhD, RN, a leader of the MU research team and a professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the MU School of Medicine. "Because falls are a concern in hospitals, we thought much of what we learned regarding older people could apply to protecting hospital patients."

Falls can happen anywhere, but in hospitals people are at higher risk of falls because patients are sick or injured, in an unfamiliar place and sometimes dizzy from medication. Because are often elderly or have underlying health conditions, they also are at higher risk for injuries if they fall.

"Technology that quickly detects falls and alerts health professionals can improve patient care and help in the diagnosis of injuries," said Rantz. Also, technology that captures data on patient falls can help health professionals learn about risk factors for falls, which could help create more effective ways of preventing them.

During the past several years, the team has explored a variety of technologies in its work with senior citizens, including Doppler radar, sound sensors and , said Marjorie Skubic, PhD, the LaPierre Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a professor of computer science at the MU College of Engineering. Doppler radar and sound sensors can both detect that a person fell, but neither shows what happened leading up to the fall, Skubic said.

"By seeing what happened before a fall, we can better understand what caused it," Rantz said. "The more we know about what causes falls, the more effectively we can prevent them."

Ordinary video cameras record the events before a fall, but they work only when there's enough light, said Skubic, who also serves as the director of MU's Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology.

When video-game motion-capture technology was released a few years ago, the MU team gained a new tool, one that avoided the limitations of the other technologies and could monitor falls in a different way. And unlike video cameras, the motion-capture system portrays people as anonymous, three-dimensional silhouettes, protecting their privacy. Those are a few of the reasons that Skubic called the motion-capture technology a "game changer."

The device looks like a thin . On one side, black glass covers the sensors that pick up the movements of video-game players—or of patients in a hospital room. One sensor, a depth camera, measures the distances to objects in its view. A cord connects the black box to a small computer.

The system works by sending a grid pattern of infrared light, invisible to the human eye, into a room, and then examining how objects and persons in the room distort the pattern. The machine analyzes these distortions to make a 3-D map, showing a patient, her bed and tray table, and everything else in the room.

If the system detects a person on the floor, it automatically reviews the preceding events as the person moved to the floor. Does the movement represent a fall, or a person kneeling to tie a shoe lace? Applying a precise algorithm created by Skubic, doctoral graduate Erik Stone and an interdisciplinary team, the computer calculates the probability that the changes represent a person's fall.

In the study, the MU research team installed a motion-capture device in each of six patient rooms at University Hospital in Columbia, Mo. The hospital is part of the MU Health System, an academic medical center that includes the MU School of Medicine, the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the MU School of Health Professions. The researchers trained nursing staff to explain the study to patients. The devices collected data continuously, monitoring the rooms 24 hours a day.

The research article covers the first eight months of the study. During that time, the sensors did not record any patient falls, but stunt actors simulated 50 falls in the rooms, providing more data for the algorithm.

"We believe the technology is promising because it accurately identified falls and may eventually help prevent falls," said Rantz, who also serves as a Helen E. Nahm Chair with the MU Sinclair School of Nursing and the University of Missouri Curators' Professor. "We are now in the process of installing the sensors in more patient rooms to learn more about its effectiveness."

The researchers felt that one potentially encouraging aspect of their work was the reduction of falls in the six during the study.

"I think these devices may have brought more attention to the issue of ," Skubic said. "It could have made patients more aware of the risks and more likely to ask their nurses for help getting out of bed."

Explore further: Researchers use sensor technologies to remotely monitor aging adults' health

More information: The study, "Automated Fall Detection with Quality Improvement 'Rewind' to Reduce Falls in Hospital Rooms," appeared in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing. eldertech.missouri.edu/files/P … ovement%20Rewind.pdf

Related Stories

Researchers use sensor technologies to remotely monitor aging adults' health

June 14, 2012
Many adults wish to maintain their independence as they age, but health problems often require them to live in assisted-care facilities where they can be observed by medical professionals. Now, technologies developed by University ...

Researchers use new video gaming technology to detect illness, prevent falls in older adults

September 6, 2011
Many older adults lose their independence as their health declines and they are compelled to move into assisted care facilities. Researchers at the University of Missouri and TigerPlace, an independent living community, have ...

Medication to treat high blood pressure associated with fall injuries in elderly

February 24, 2014
Medication to treat high blood pressure (BP) in older patients appears to be associated with an increased risk for serious injury from falling such as a hip fracture or head injury, especially in older patients who have been ...

A device to prevent falls in the elderly

January 17, 2014
The EPFL spin-off Gait Up just put an extremely thin motion sensor on the market. It can detect the risk of a fall in an older person and is equally useful for sports and physical therapy.

Falls among elderly reduced by state program

March 13, 2014
A low-cost program reduced falls in the elderly by 17 percent statewide, illustrating the value and effectiveness of using existing aging services, such as senior centers, in preventing falls, a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

Recommended for you

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

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.