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'Magic Carpet' Could Help Prevent Falls Among the Elderly 87

Hugh Pickens writes "Falls are a major cause of injury and death among over-70s, and account for more than 50% of hospital admissions for accidental injury. Thus, being able to identify changes in people's walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a corridor in a nursing home, could help identity mobility problems early on. Now, BBC reports that researchers have shown off a 'magic carpet' that can detect falls and may even predict mobility problems. Beneath the carpet is a mesh of optical fibers that detect and plot movement as pressure bends them, changing the light detected at the carpet's edges. These deflected light patterns help electronics 'learn' walking patterns and detect if they are deteriorating. With over 19,700 deaths in the elderly in the U.S. in 2008 from unintentional fall injuries and 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults treated in emergency departments, spotting subtle changes in a person's walking habits may help identify changes that might go unnoticed by family members or care-givers. 'The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person's condition; from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition,' says Patricia Scully from The University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute."
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'Magic Carpet' Could Help Prevent Falls Among the Elderly

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  • What if it detected a weight profile that was larger than an average step for a period of time longer than a minute, could it call 911 and request 'Elderly Person Down' assistance? Or at least ask if it should call 911 and if no voice response was given then dial it?

    • Dogs can't talk so one laying on the carpet may pose problems for that scenario.

      • I suspect that an elderly person with mobility issues might not want to look after a dog that's roughly the same size and weight as them.

        • Not a Weimaraner, sure, but a properly professionally trained Labrador retriever from a good bloodline would be incredibly valuable. A German Shepherd would be a good choice, too, but I think the generally-underrated Doberman (a brave, loyal, and extremely smart dog), while a good choice for most situations, is probably too excitable for the elderly.
      • Dogs tend to make a different impact when casually lying down than the elderly falling down, I think.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I'm concerned about the false positives a weight and rhythm sensitive carpet would be subject to.

      • by jerpyro ( 926071 )

        I was thinking that too, or (from the poster above) the dog analogy is another good one. But if it's that sensitive it can find the weight of the person based on the pressure profile and it should be able to tell when a specific individual is lying on the carpet, right? I don't have all the answers, I just think it would have practical applications for assisted living communities so that they can tell if a person takes a fall.

        • The 'I've fallen and I can't get up' problem is probably better answered by a bracelet / fob whatever that has an accelerometer, perhaps a pulse meter and a wireless or whatever connection. To use a floor mat to determine whether granny is alive seems complicated.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            arm bracelets can fall of which should not be too good for false positives. Also a person might fall slowly and still lie there slowly dying of starvation without any alert. A neck bracelet might work, triggering an alert when it is in close proximity to the mat. This should not be a problem as old people who need this stuff generally don't do handstands or cartwheels.

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            It's just more than telling if granny is on the floor, TFA I read yesterday said it can fortell falls by a person's gait, preventing the fall in the first place.

      • by MikeMo ( 521697 )
        I'd rather have some false positives than find my Mom has been lying on the floor for a few days.
    • If it detects a big thud, the person has fallen. Also how does this prevent anything? Seriously overengineered.
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:21PM (#41238131) Homepage Journal

    I saw this yesterday. I'm 60, the only time I fall down is when I'm drunk. Sometimes I'm a bit wobbly when I first wake up until I've had coffee, even when I hadn't drank. What would this device "think" about that? My mother had an inner ear problem a few years ago (she's 84), I wonder if this would have kept her from breaking her arm?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Nursing home corridors typically don't have carpets. They are waxed floors that are easy to keep clean with antiseptic because bodily fluids tend to get on them. If you put this "magic carpet" in, how do you ensure it stays as sterile as possible?
    • how do you ensure it stays as sterile as possible?

      Um... It's magic?

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      You cover it in silicone. Then you can use whatever cleaning products you like, within reason.

    • Not to mention they are usually staffed with physical therapists who can do this gait detection along with a long list of other healthcare related tasks. I see this being more useful in video games and not so much in healthcare, but we all know which one will rake in the government research grants.
  • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:22PM (#41238151) Journal

    What will happen here:

    1. Invention will be commercialised;

    2. "Assistance device" corporate welfare company will try to sell this to local authorities;

    3. Old and disabled people will be offered this as a cheap alternative to the help they actually need;

    4. Such people will fall anyway;

    5. And then need more NHS and residential care than they would have otherwise.

    • For a bonus, it would be possible to track individuals using this data. The carpet would be able to differentiate between the ways different people walk, and in fact would have to in order to cut down on false positives.
  • So what if two people decide to shag on the floor one day? Or while standing up even? Is that gonna get recorded in the carpet's memory banks and get sent back to home base for further analysis?
    • All kinds of privacy concerns this could lead to as far as what the carpet home-base-database folks have at their disposal. Suppose homebase knows all the homes with occupants that are progressively showing signs of getting fatter. They could sell that information to diet pill marketers. You could also use this to identify other behavior patterns as well. If the subject tends to move from one room to the next more frequently one day, then it could imply that they're doing a lot of pacing because they're n
  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:26PM (#41238213)

    In my limited experience watching relatives fall and die soon after (well, not in person, but hearing about it) its not the fall that's the problem, but the heart attack that lead to the pain that led to the fall, or the stroke that led to the fall, or the kidney/liver failure that led to mass confusion that led to the fall... yes these relatives of mine technically did fall and then die, but the "real problem" was what made them fall, not the fall that made them die soon after. So I'm not entirely sure than locking old people in a kids inflatable "bouncy castle" is much help.

    Also it seems a stereotype at the hospital/old folks home/hospice that the last thing people do before being permanently bedridden is fall, then they're like chained down or ordered never to stand again, which coincidentally happens pretty late in their decline, so naturally they continue to decline and die like the next week, because apparently standing is not terribly difficult so its one of the last things to go. Come to think of it, it is pretty easy, since its one of the first things kids learn to do...

    I'm just saying its not going to make anyone live longer or better, just means they'll get confined to bed rest and die soon after anyway. So its kind of a depressing invention. Kind of the opposite of "let me die with my boots on" type of thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      What about the hip fracture and replacement surgery that happens after the fall? That always seems problematic and life shortening as well.
  • Wouldnt it be better to use kinect-like motion sensors for this sort of thing? Seems pretty random to put hype that kind of tech in the carpet. Prone to drinks spillage, animal piss and wear and tear.
  • Great!

    Now we have a database of thousands of people's daily habits, combined with their addresses and age.

    We can query it to find out the best time to air TV shows.

    Or use it to find out the best time to break in and steal the TV.

    I'm kidding. I'm sure they'll keep the data safe, just like Apple does.

  • "chemical sensing of body fluids"

    So... am I going to be the first one to ask.... is this carpet detecting urine, feces, sweat, snot, saliva, semen, vaginal fluid, and other fluids that could drip from the body to floor?

  • by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:49PM (#41238485)

    I'm glad they clarified that the injuries were from *unintentional* falls.

    • No, they actually meant the the injuries resulting from the falls were unintentional.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      People get injured when their parachutes don't open, they get injured on movie sets, they get injured doing stupid non-movie stunts. So yes, people do get injured when falling intentionally.

      • I'm thinking in an article talking about the 70+ crowd the parachute and stunt stats are pretty much sampling noise.

  • This could be more useful if combined with some kind of motor system that could move the carpet to prevent the fall, with an algorithm similar to what segways use.

  • That's great if the carpet can tell when grandma is about to fall, it improves the chances of getting help to her on time. The hard part though is getting it to prevent grandma from falling in the first place. If the carpet could convince her to sit down for a while (without making her think she's just lost her mind) that could go a long way on it's own. A lot of falls are preventable by getting the person who is at risk to sit down for a moment.
  • With over 19,700 deaths in the elderly in the U.S. in 2008 from unintentional fall injuries .... [emphasis mine]

    No figures for intentional fall injuries ...?

  • It's all very well to identify people at risk of falling but the issue isn't really that. Far more common that older people are in an oversized house that they have lived in for years and they are set in their ways and do not want to move
    • More accurate...? "Far more common that older people are oversized, in a house that they have lived in for years, they are set in their ways and do not want to move"
    • Why should they have to move out, if it's their own house? If I want three bedrooms all to myself, there's nothing wrong with that.
      There's millons of square kilometres you can use to build your own house, you know.

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        If I want three bedrooms all to myself, there's nothing wrong with that.

        10 miles from anything else. So you have to drive everywhere. But when you are no longer capable [], don't come crying to us when your license gets pulled.

        Maybe we need 'magic crosswalks' that sense when a driver just doesn't have what it takes anymore.

  • Most people think the fall is the cause of broken bones, etc... when in fact it's usually the other way around.

    I expect that this carpet could in fact help, in some cases, which makes it work doing. I think that there are many other ways to approach this which might be fruitful as well.

  • HAL: Dave, are you stumbling drunk again?
    Dave: No HAL, I am having a stroke and falling down. Can you get medical assistance?
    HAL: I'm afraid I can't do that Dave.
  • The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person's condition; from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids,

    Cleanup on aisle 5 .....

  • Help! I've fallen and ...


  • Identifies a drunken gait and tells you to go sleep in the garage tonight.

    Thus, your wife doesn't have to stay up waiting for you.

Remember to say hello to your bank teller.