New study could prevent falls in older people

A PhD student at the University of Canberra has discovered that using inexpensive video equipment to produce a new walk assessment tool could prevent falls in older people. 

The project aims to create a computer program or an app which could be used by older people themselves to capture their walking (gait).

Over time, it would alert them or their carers to changes in the way they walk that might mean an increasing risk of suffering a fall.

Phd student Hafsa Ismail says preventing falls is the aim but making it easier for older people to know when they should seek professional advice from a general practitioner or a physiotherapist is also important.

“I’d like to see this system installed in aged care facilities, where people could be instantly assessed while walking to get their meals three times a day, for example; their carers could be alerted when their walk deteriorates,” Ismail says.

Ismail is in the stage of looking for Canberrans aged 60 years and over to attend a session and spend 10 minutes walking and balancing in a short series of three poses for the cameras.

The quick test would then be repeated three months later to determine if any changes have occurred in the person’s gait.

“I am currently combining the two methods, a traditional force-plate and the videos to compare the data and see the correlations that can be drawn to establish a ground truth,” Ismail says.

“The research looks at the movement of participants’ legs, but also at how their torso moves or sways as they walk.

“I’m hoping that by comparing the data, we can spot changes in the video that relate to what the force-plate is detecting. Then we can begin to program computers to analyse these videos looking for similar changes.”

Physiotherapists currently rely on expensive “force-plate” technology, involving complex equipment, to gauge how people walk (gait).

People interested in participating can email Hafsa.Ismail@canberra.edu.au

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