Every second somewhere in Europe an older person falls. Falling does not only cause physical injuries like bruises, a broken hip or a concussion, but also affects people’s mental health. After falling, older people generally feel very vulnerable: they are afraid to fall again and are thus tempted to move less and to stay indoors, which might lead to social isolation. At the moment, there is a lot of research on fall detection, but little attention is paid to fall prevention. The Fall Risk Scale attempts to change this. This technology – which can be integrated into a regular bathroom scale – calculates someone’s potential fall risk in less than a minute.
Prevention is better than cure
Falling comes at a cost. The medical care and potential hospitalization after a fall incident generally amount to about 1000 euros per person. Additionally, falling also affects people’s self-esteem and for many older people a fall incident is the first step towards a nursing home. Figures from the Center for Fall and Fracture Prevention in Flanders also indicate that one in three falls could have been prevented if certain simple measures had been taken in advance (using a walking frame, removing carpets that are not anchored to the floor, buying a new pair of glasses, etc.).
Ironically, fall prevention now usually only happens after someone is hospitalized due to a fall incident.
The medical staff then estimates the potential fall risk to determine whether or not the patient can return home and which other measures need to be taken. At the moment, they usually do this based on the so-called ‘get-up-and-go’ test. In this test, the patient has to get up from a chair, walk 3 meters, turn and walk back to the chair as quickly as possible. Based on this observation, the doctor then determines the patient’s potential fall risk. Another option is to analyze the patient’s gait in a special lab using sensors and cameras. The disadvantage of both these methods is that they require a doctor, physiotherapist and/or specialized high-tech equipment. For this reason, fall risk is generally not estimated preventative.
There are a number of systems on the market today that focus on fall detection. Some of these systems also analyze people’s gait to estimate their potential fall risk, but these solutions are generally rather expensive and require several cameras and sensors to be installed in the home environment.
2-in-1: a bathroom scale that also determines your fall risk
At first sight, the Fall Risk Scale looks just like any other bathroom scale, but four pressure sensors are built into the device. These sensors determine your center of gravity and follow it for about 40 seconds. Using an advanced algorithm, it thus calculates your potential fall risk. The result is shown in a color code: green means no fall risk, yellow indicates an increased fall risk and red means that preventative measures should be taken as soon as possible. In the prototype, this feedback is shown in a smartphone app, but in the commercial version the plan is to show this feedback on the scale’s display.