New sensor technology designed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers helps prevent falls in the elderly

Healthcare sensors to prevent falls and sunburn

Sensors designed to prevent injuries from falls and health risks from overexposure to sunlight are being developed in the hope of helping to reduce future healthcare costs.

It is widely believed that innovative wearable sensor technology monitoring various aspects of the body’s functioning is set to revolutionise future healthcare, improving prevention and allowing for timely interventions if things go wrong.

In some of the latest developments, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA and Australia’s University of New South Wales have set out to tackle two common problems – fall injuries in the world's aging population and risk of skin cancer due to sun overexposure.

The Carnegie Mellon team developed a sensor that monitors changes in a person’s gait with the aim of detecting patterns that might occur before the person falls. The sensor can alert the individual that he or she might be getting fatigued or that medication is affecting their motion and that they need to take extra care in order not to get injured. The alert could also be shared with a carer or a relative. The researchers hope the technology could improve confidence of elderly patients and allow them to walk and exercise more.

"Many older adults in senior care facilities are restricted to wheelchairs when not under the direct care of a nurse, but this technology could allow them to regain some of their independence," said Haeyoung Noh, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

The sensors, which are currently tested at two facilities for elderly people in Pittsburgh and California, also send alerts to carers and emergency services if an unexpected fall occurs.

According to available data, an elderly adult is admitted to an emergency room due to an injury caused by a fall every 13 seconds.

The risk of developing skin cancer due to excessive exposure to solar radiation is another common health concern. Especially in countries with a severely compromised ozone layer such as Australia, skin cancer caused by UV radiation comes with a high price tag to the healthcare services, as well as loss of lives.

A team from the University of New South Wales has therefore developed a simple low-cost paper-based sensor that alerts the wearer when solar exposure reaches a safe limit. Unlike other existing sensors, the new device doesn’t require any high-tech systems to work and can even differentiate between safe levels of solar exposure based on different skin tones and the strength of sun screen that people have used.

The sensor, containing a layer of non-toxic titanium dioxide, can be simply inkjet-printed.

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