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Wearable sensors using technology developed by NASA and the Hollywood film industry are being trialled by the NHS to help identify older patients at risk of falls.

Falls present a serious problem for many older people across the country and the NHS is trialling the new technology as part of a wider drive to tackle frailty. A report from leading charity Age UK has highlighted that as many as one-in-three over-65s can suffer a fall causing serious injury.

As well as having a negative impact on people’s confidence and quality of life, falls among older people cost the NHS an estimated £6 million per day. In the worst cases they can result in several weeks spent recovering in hospital or can even be fatal, either through injuries sustained in the fall or complications arising from it.

In order to cut the number of falls and the cost to the NHS, new measures are being put in place to identify patients at risk of a fall before it happens. At the most basic level this will mean a requirement for GPs to routinely identify which of their patients over 65 they consider to be frail and at risk of falling. However, new technology is also being used in trials to monitor and analyse how people move in their own home environment and whether it puts them at risk.

Small devices known as ‘MEMS’ (microelectromechanical systems) are worn on each shin and gather data on how the wearer moves. The data is then analysed using specialist computer programmes which calculate the risk of a fall.

Human movement analysis has been used in sports science for many years, helping sportsmen and women learn to move in the most effective way to achieve success. The technology has also been developed by NASA to learn how astronauts move in zero gravity and by the film industry in developing new CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) techniques.

Now it is being adapted for medical use, with the latest generation of MEMS being small, light, power efficient and, for the first time, easy-to-use outside the laboratory environment. When people are tested in a lab or hospital setting, they will move differently to how they do normally, because they are consciously aware of being tested. But someone in their own home will soon forget they are wearing the small MEMS devices and move around normally, giving an accurate analysis of their movement and their risk of a fall.

Professor Brian Caulfield, Professor of Physiotherapy at University College Dublin, said: “This technology gives an enormous advantage by moving patients into more familiar surroundings, such as their home or GP surgery. This is the exact same technology we have used with professional rugby players, and in testing with the European Space Agency, but it has huge potential to make a significant difference to vulnerable older patients as well.”

If a patient is identified as being at risk of a fall, a range of physiotherapy care can be planned to reduce that risk. Physical changes to their home environment can also help minimise the risk and help prevent a fall from happening.

Professor Martin Vernon, National Clinical Director for Older People and Integrated Care at NHS England, said: “It is fantastic that space-age technology, aimed at putting a man on the moon, is now helping vulnerable patients back on earth to live better while steering the NHS away from financial black holes.

“Frailty is an issue that has the potential to affect everyone in their later years, but thanks to the work being done by the NHS to harness new diagnosis and treatment methods, the future is looking a lot brighter. It’s one small step for Nan, one giant leap for the NHS.”

Of course, the one place in your home to avoid a fall at all costs is on the stairs. For obvious reasons, the consequences of falling on the stairs can be catastrophic, especially for older people, but the risk can be eliminated entirely by installing an Acorn Stairlift. It will carry you in safety and comfort up and down the stairs as many times each day as you like.

If you worry about falling on the stairs, or about a loved one at risk of a fall, give Acorn a call today on freephone 0800 073 9775 to talk to one of our stairlift experts and arrange a free, no-obligation home survey. It will give you all the information you need about an Acorn Stairlift tailored to your individual needs and your home, including a comprehensive quote with no hidden extras and valid for a year.

An Acorn Stairlift is the most sensible precaution you can take against falling on the stairs and a sound investment in your future wellbeing and quality of life.

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