The carpet that predicts falls
Aladdin’s magic carpet may have whisked him off to exciting lands, but unlike a new invention from the University of Manchester, it didn’t have the power to prevent falls. Researchers there have come up with a way to create carpets with fibres that bend when a person treads on it, mapping their walking patterns and potentially predicting when a person is becoming more prone to falling.
The carpet works via plastic optical fibres. These bend and relay a message to sensors, which in turn relay signals to a computer. The computer then interprets the signals and is able to assess whether a person’s walking behaviour is changing – so that even very gradual and, to the individual, unnoticeable effects can be monitored. If there is a steady deterioration, the computer model could predict a greater likelihood of a fall and maybe prevent such an event as a result.
Falling is the most common indoor accident for elderly people and it accounts for 50% of hospital admissions in the over 65s. “Smart carpets” such as the one designed by the Manchester scientists could be put into care homes, hospital wards, and even people’s homes to prevent accidents. The magic doesn’t stop with preventing falls, however. The researchers say that the carpet can also be used to detect spillages or fire. Once the carpet is laid and set up with the computer system, it would allow caregivers a useful way to monitor patients’ activity and wellbeing without the need for more intrusive methods.
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Help research into falls
If you or someone you know has had a fall outside in the last year, then you could play a part in making pavements and kerbs safer by taking part in a quick survey.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian University are engaged in a major project, led by Dr Chantelle Anandan, who explains why they’d like your help; "We’d like to use this information to understand the key risk factors that are associated with outdoor falls in the elderly. This information, along with results from the other work packages in our project, will hopefully lead on to improvements in the design and maintenance of roads and pavements so that we can improve the quality of life of the elderly".
Go to the survey questions.