Texas MRC Research Projects

 

Annually in the US more than 1/3 of adults, ages 65 and older, experience falls. Many of these fallers start using a cane or rolling walker (RW) following a fall. In senior living communities, a RW is the most commonly used ambulatory device. Among the older RW users, pain at the wrists and upper and lower back often occurs. Unfortunately, the rate of falling is still high (nearly 40%) amongst these RW users. The side effects (particularly the risk of falls) of using a RW are greatly associated with incorrect RW height (causing a different grip strength distribution while holding the RW), inappropriate user posture (causing different pressure/strains on the walker/ground), changes in gait patterns (causing a decreased gait speed) and poor maintenance of the RW tips (wheels) (causing different shear force on the ground). However, currently there are no instruments or devices available to enable a clinician to monitor how a RW user uses their RW for daily mobility. Therefore, in this study, a SmartWalker will be designed and instrumented in our engineering laboratory in order to identify the improper RW use before it causes a fall or other fall‐related medical problems. Different sensors will be installed on the SmartWalker. These sensors will monitor how the user holds the handgrips of a walker, how the user’s posture affects ground‐reaction forces during standing or walking, how fast the user moves the walker during ambulation and if and how pressure is distributed on the four tips (wheels) of the walker. Data from the sensors will be acquired by a Data Acquisition Device (DAD) and wirelessly transmitted to a PC for data storage and to monitor the user’s status while using the walker. Further, this study will evaluate the use of the SmartWalker longitudinally at two local senior living communities using common clinical assessment tools such as reliability and validity tests, feasibility analyses and correlation studies. The SmartWalker is expected to be an assistive ambulatory device as well as a dynamic, real‐time, data‐traceable monitor of the older walker user’s grip strength, posture, gait speed and overall maintenance for the prevention of walker‐user related falls and side effects.


Howe Liu, Ph.D. UNTHSC
Associate Professor – Physical Therapy
howe.liu@unthsc.edu//501.735.2457//Biography
Co-PIs:
Haiying Huang, Ph.D. UTA
Arvind Nana, M.D. THR

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One in three older adults fall each year causing serious, life threatening injuries, increasing caregiver burden, and health care costs. The majority of research focused on understanding what causes falls in older adults considers the impact of age-related visual, motor and cognitive impairments. Recent studies have shown that individuals with hearing loss may be at greater risk of falls than individuals without hearing loss. Importantly, hearing loss affects more than half of adults over the age of 65 and startlingly, of those who could benefit from a hearing aid (thus potentially reducing falls), 2/3 decline or fail to seek treatment. Overall, despite the acknowledged association between hearing loss and falls, very few systematic studies have adequately defined this relationship. (more…)

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Falls are listed as the third most common cause of unintentional injury and death in all age groups and the leading cause of death in adults over the age of 65 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Injury Center, 2007). Hospital settings can be dangerous, due to factors such as the unfamiliar environment, change in medical conditions and medication side effects. Currently, inpatient falls occur at a rate of 2.3-7 falls per 1,000 patient days, with an estimated cost per fall equaling at least $6,437.

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The team is creating a virtual environment where people are tested on boat rides, a walk, and other potentially unstable situations for fall prevention. be used to retrain their Vibrotactile feedback will sensory weighting. (more…)

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