Balance Declines After 50: How Technology is Helping Keep People on their Feet

Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the ER for a fall – resulting in 2.8 million injuries, according to the National Council on Aging. 20 to 30 percent of these patients will suffer severe injuries, the most common being traumatic brain injuries, making it difficult to get around or live independently and increase the risk of early death. While we tend to think of falling as a problem for only the elderly, research shows balance can decline as early as 50.
 

"Many do not realize the impact of this public health epidemic, but the dangers of falling affect 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 and the total cost of fall-related injuries to Medicare is over
$34 billion each year."


So what are healthcare companies doing to meet this challenge? They turn to technology.
 
As with all industries, technology has propelled the creation of more interactive, efficient and effective products and services to achieve the end goal. For fall prevention, the technology based fall prevention systems have gone far beyond anti-slip shoes and LifeAlert.
 
In honor of the 9th Annual Fall Prevention Day, September 22, we’ve compiled 4 ways technology has influenced fall prevention intervention:
 

1. Creative Ways to Engage Older Adults:

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines patient engagement as consumer empowerment, health advocacy, and patient activism. It can also be a more intimate activity that can take place at home, in the doctor’s office or at the bedside, where engaged patients, armed with information about their condition and available services, make more informed choices about their own health care.
 
Specifically in terms of fall prevention, it is imperative to integrate communication technologies that allow clinicians to keep tabs on their patients who are at risk for falls.
 
Through our research with ‘Stand Tall’, we’ve found older adults yearning for fall prevention knowledge outweighs most fear about technology. Community-based programs and workshops have not only demonstrated a reduction in falls but also the fear of falling and increased overall activity in this cohort.

2. Early Intervention with Multiple Platform Prevention

A recent study points to the need for a physical performance screener that spans across adulthood as a clinical tool for identifying functional decline.
 
Finding ways to integrate fall prevention capabilities in and outside of the home is where we’ll find the nexus of consistent prevention. The wearables market is a great example of integrating fall prevention programs across multiple platforms – cell phones and computer programs that demonstrate activity.
 
Whether it’s a hardware technology, such as ‘Stand Tall’, a wearable or a smartphone app that helps with balance enhancing exercises, leveraging the vast amounts of technological resources we have available will aid in fall prevention intervention.

3. Empower Autonomy

According to a Carnegie Mellon University survey, 81 percent of Americans are seeking technology solutions to combat their worry about falls among elderly adults. So while older adults tend to realize the dangers faced with falling, most are unsure what actions to take to prevent them.

 The ‘Stand Tall’ kiosk is a television screen that leverages 3D motion capture technology and is set up in the gym area of senior centers and nursing homes. Participant exercises are selected based on their clinical presentation and updated according to interactions and communications between the user and the ‘Stand Tall’ overseer. The virtual avatar, named VERA (virtual exercise rehabilitation assistant), guides the user through and interactive physical therapy exercise program to strengthen the user and ultimately provide a prevention mechanism against falls.

4. Post-Fall Follow Up

If a fall does occur, one of the most important steps to take is to maintain post-fall care. These include assessments by a physical therapist which includes a physical assessment of the patient and all possible contributing factors to the fall. As part of Reflexion Health’s Stand Tall initiative, VERA™, a virtual exercise rehabilitation assistant, delivers an evidence-based exercise programs to improve strength, balance and engagement in older adults in order to prevent falls. Having the ability to exercise on one’s own time with a virtual personal assistant allows patients of falls to regain a sense of independence and confidence to safely get back on their feet. 

Overall, we’ve found older adults are not scared of technology whatsoever, in fact it’s somewhat of an ageist myth. Seniors embrace technology and are excited to now have the tools to become autonomous when it comes to their health and be proactive.

by Tiffany Shubert, PhD, PT, Scientific & Strategic Advisor

Tiffany Shubert