Falls among elderly living at home can be prevented using ICT-based solutions

On Monday January 13, 2014, we could read a report in the front page of Adresseavisen (Trondheim’s main local newspaper) about fall injuries among elderly: Almost half of all the elderly who are involved in fall accidents in hospitals die within one year after the accident. To fall and get injured is a heavy strain on both the faller and the family and close friends. Many of us can tell stories from our own family and friends, of seniors who were injured during a fall and who were never able to recover.

A lot of research worldwide is being carried out to help eliminate falls. The newspaper article mentions a number of them. In addition to observations and conventional interventions such as exercises, a lot of research within computer science is now being applied to the prevention and elimination of falls. Trondheim-based research institutes such as NTNU and SINTEF participate in a number of national and international activities of this kind.

There are different types of ICT used in fall prevention. One type of solution is based on collecting data from accelerometers and other sensors in smart phones. The data collected from these sensors can be used to assess the risk of falling for the senior person carrying the smart phone. The results are not 100% correct, but we are getting there fast.

St. Olavs Hospital, NTNU, and SINTEF cooperate closely in developing such ICT-based solutions. Pioneers in this field in Trondheim are professors Jorunn Helbostad and Olav Sletvold. One of the major initiatives where all the three institutes are involved is the FARSEEING project, funded by the European Commission. In FARSEEING we are working on creating smart phone based fall detection and prevention solutions. Fall detection and welfare technologies are pointed out by SINTEF as one of four company-wide strategic areas of research.

Living long lives at home is a goal that brings with it a lot of challenges. Not so long ago, the same newspaper had another front page article about a senior lady who had to wait 13 hours for help after having fallen at her own home. It turned out that the reason was the alarm system that did not function well. Together with the Trondheim municipality alarm center we are in the process of trying out new service models based on automatic fall detection. Our hope is to reduce the waiting time after fall accidents. Our cooperation with the “Helsevakta” project at Trondheim Municipality is a strategically important step in our research in the area of falls.

(This is a translation of an article that appeared in Adresseavisen on Saturday 18. January 2014).

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