Older people who live on their own can be at risk. Severe injuries or unconsciousness as a result of falling can prevent them making the emergency call that could save their life. A new smart alarm system now ensures that help is called even in situations such as this.
More than ninety percent of Germans want to live as much of their later years in their own home. A wish that would appear to be difficult to implement considering the demographic situation if it were not for the rapid developments being made in the area of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL).
Among other things, these “age-appropriate assistance systems for self-determined living” remind people to take their medication, but they also measure vital parameters and transmit these to their family doctor. Admittedly, many of the systems are still being trialed.
But an increasing number of warning systems that recognize when people fall down are coming on to the market. After all, four to five million older people fall each year in Germany alone. About a third of over 65-year-olds who live independently fall at least once per year, a figure that rises to more than 50% for the over 80s. In 90% of the cases these incidents cause no adverse effects or have only minor physical consequences. But up to ten percent result in serious injuries. In cases such as these, the person concerned may be unable to reach the traditional medical alarm if such a device is even available.
Fall alarms without camera
This is where the Walabot from Israel-based Vayyar comes in. The smart device recognizes when a person in the household falls and immediately calls a defined phone number. This also happens when there are sudden changes in the person’s daily routine, as the Walabot learns its users’ habits. As opposed to camera-based solutions, it does not need any light or a line of vision. Users’ reservations with regard to their “private sphere” such as in bedrooms and bathrooms also play no role.
A welcome feature: The Walabot does not have to be worn on the body like conventional fall detectors; instead it monitors the room with the help of weak high frequency rays. Similar to a radar system, radio waves (6.3 – 8.3 GHz) are emitted and the reflections are received with various antennas. Algorithms evaluate these reflections depending on the application.
Smart safety for the elderly
Swiss startup Caru also promises similar benefits but with a completely different technology. For example, in an emergency, its IoT smart sensor contacts a defined person via a phone line with simple voice commands. It also has a range of sensors that measure the temperature and air quality of the surroundings, for example, and sends this data to a cloud. Algorithms analyze the user’s behavior and recognize a deviation. If necessary, a trusted person is contacted automatically. Caru will be available for institutional customers from the end of November. Currently a pilot project is being carried out with the residential and care facility provider Tertianum.
Safety on the wrist
In spite of the benefits of the standalone assistants, wearables still play an important role as fall detectors. Apple has also integrated fall analysis into its new Watch Series 4. If the user remains motionless on the ground for one minute, an emergency call is automatically made to a defined contact person. An analysis is carried out based on the data from the accelerometer.
Scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) use similar sensors to evaluate the fall risk and recommend suitable preventive measures. So far, evaluations such as this take place only in geriatric clinics in connection with rehabilitation measures or patients’ fall diaries. But in many cases, patients have previously experienced falls. On the other hand, continuous evaluation of the fall risk may be able to prevent the first fall.
The newly developed sensors evaluate the number and type of steps along with the speed and motion sequence. They are also able to put this into an environmental context, since different environments lead to different risks.
An algorithm converts the sensor data into a coefficient that stands for the fall risk level – in other words, “at risk” or “not at risk”. Information from the three areas of movement – gait, how the person stands up, and arm-leg coordination – are then evaluated to choose the right strategy to prevent falls. These strategies include equilibrium training, changes in medication, and minimizing hazards in the household.
Currently, the sensors are being developed further together with Bosch Healthcare Solutions (Hall C3 Booth 522) and could be available on the market over the coming years.
Learn more about medical wearables at the electronica Medical Electronics Conference (eMEC).