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Fashion-Forward Bubble-Wrap Skirts to Absorb the Impact of Falls

Design, prototype, then distribute cushioned skirts (out of a material like bubble-wrap) so that a fall does not result in a hip fracture.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

Fall prevention programs are not known for their sense of humor. But most old people are women, and women often have a playful approach to fashion. Bubble-wrap skirts, designed in bright, playful colors - could cushion the impact of falls while also serving as a conversation piece about the importance of fall prevention. A variation on this theme could also be designed for men.

Ninety-five percent of hip fractures in the elderly are caused by falls, usually sideways. A wrap-around skirt, worn on top of ordinary clothing and designed so that it's easy to take on and off, could significantly reduce the incidence of falls since it would act like a car's air bag, absorbing the impact. (Alternative idea: An air-bag skirt.) 

Skirts could come in different thicknesses, depending on the fall risk. They could come in different colors, and be fun and fashionable while contributing to a sense of security. We need a different name than "skirt" for men, but the same concept would apply. Many men now enjoy the popular Loudmouth shorts - which gives some indication that men might have fun with this concept as well.


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I could recruit members of Design Thinking DC to build prototypes. I could ask trainers (young, resilient folks) at a local Gold's Gym to test early designs, deliberately falling in a variety of directions in a controlled way to see how the material reacts -- and how their bodies react. Prototypes would also be tested to see how easy they are to get on and off. Ease of use would be essential, since old people are more likely to have arthritis, which usually makes using the hands difficult.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

What manufacturer might be willing to work with a group such as AARP, Leading Age, or the National Association for Homecare and Hospice to prototype and test different designs? A bubble-wrap company? How would these skirts be fastened? How thick would they have to be to provide sufficient cushion?

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm VP for Innovation and Planning at ASAE. Before this I was Executive Director of an association focused on fitness for seniors & kids w. disabilities. I've written 7 books ab. female athletes.
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Team (6)

Kate's profile
Kate Rushton

Role added on team:

"Hi Kate, It's been fun working with you on this idea and others, so I thought I'd invite you to join my team. No commitment on your part required; just a gesture, at this point, of appreciation and inclusion. Thank you!"

Spencer's profile
Spencer Yeh

Role added on team:

"Hi Spencer, thanks for thinking about airbags, motorcycle clothing, and bubble-wrap with me. As a gesture of appreciation (not a request for more work :-)), I'm inviting you to be a teammate."

Mariah's profile
Lillian J's profile
Lillian J Warner

Role added on team:

"Hi Lillian, Thanks for contributing to my bubble wrap idea. Shall we be teammates? In any case, I appreciate your joining me on this journey this far!"

Laura Yvonne's profile
Laura Yvonne Bulk

Role added on team:

"Hi Laura, Thanks for entertaining the bubble wrap idea with an open mind - and more ideas. As a gesture of appreciation, I'm inviting you to be a teammate."

Bettina's profile
Bettina Fliegel

Role added on team:

"Hi Bettina, I've learned so much from you already. Thanks for all your contributions to this idea and others. Shall we be teammates? In any case, I appreciate your comments and encouragement."

29 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Spencer Yeh
Team

Kate Rushton Is it too late to enter in a new, separate Idea for this Challenge? I wanted to separate out the idea for a reinforced Spanx product into its own separate Idea since it no longer relates to bubble-wrap.

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Spencer! You should be able to edit your existing idea, but we have made a note of your Spanx idea.

Spam
Photo of Spencer Yeh
Team

I posted the original Airbag belt/vest/clothing idea  idea, but the more I think about it I think that's way overkill. The bike airbag costs $320. I think the best place to look is motorcycle padded clothing. They're designed for falls at highway speeds and are still relatively light. I own a padded motorcycle jacket that has a removable spine protector. You could use those designs and materials as a starting point and make them lighter and more flexible for use with hip protection. I think BMX bicycle riders have similar things too.

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Spencer,

I like this idea! Motorcycle clothing seems to have potential. Lighter and more flexible would be good - and maybe less concerned with road rash and more with broken hips/backs. Thanks!

Spam
Photo of Lillian J Warner
Team

Spencer Yeh hi! i like your Spanx idea a lot! Maybe you can edit the idea already you posted: Airbag belt/vest/clothing idea to reflect your new thinking?

Spam
Photo of Spencer Yeh
Team

Linking to uPants - hip protection system as that is close to the Spanx / motorcycle protective gear idea I discussed below.

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Laura Yvonne Bulk 
Yes, your comment is still relevant. A few others have proposed airbags, and one person proposed hip protectors similar to what football players wear. I was not aware of the existing hip protectors you mention. Perhaps all of the hip-protection ideas could be combined into one "Cushion falls with absorbent material" idea. Create A Wearable Airbag Bathrobe Air bag Airbag belt/vest/clothing idea 

Spam
Photo of Laura Yvonne Bulk
Team

Yes, hip protectors do exist and are very widely used (at least in British Columbia, Canada) with people who are at risk for hip fractures (older adults) in long term care settings and in the community (but to a lesser extent).
I encourage you to look up the evidence for the effectiveness of hip protectors at actually preventing injury/hip fractures. Here is an excerpt from one article:
"The potential benefit of hip protectors in reducing hip fractures in nursing home residents requires further confirmation"

Sawka, A. M., Boulos, P., Beattie, K., Thabane, L., Papaioannou, A., Gafni, A., ... & Adachi, J. D. (2005). Do hip protectors decrease the risk of hip fracture in institutional and community-dwelling elderly? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Osteoporosis International, 16(12), 1461-1474.

This, unfortunately, suggests that perhaps wearable hip protectors such as the ones you propose might not be as effective as we'd like them to be. But don't despair! You could be involved in designing more effective hip protectors - why do the current ones not work well? How can they be improved? Also, making them aesthetically pleasing would be a HUGE asset! I know too many residents who despise the hip protectors due to the looks, and also because they make you too hot/sweaty (another important consideration in your design)

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Laura,

All good points and questions for further research. I'm in the U.S., and my knowledge of retirement homes is limited to ones in a few states here. Thanks for letting me know you're seeing the hip protectors in Canada. I agree that aesthetic appeal would be a huge asset. Just getting dressed can also be a struggle for many elderly people, so we want to make these things as easy as possible to get into and out of.

Spam
Photo of Laura Yvonne Bulk
Team

yes, ease of donning and doffing is important for sure!
Thanks for including me in the conversation :)

As you move forward with the project, I encourage you to incorporate evidence-based research into your approach to make sure you know what's been done/is being done, any studies that have been done to test out some of these ideas, and what has been learned from previous projects

Spam
Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Laura and Mariah,
Hi. I have never heard of these products in the US, in general. Laura, do you know how long this has been a recommended product? Is this the company and products you are referring to?
https://www.hipsaver.ca

Spencer's idea to look at protective gear for motorcycle riders is great!

Spam
Photo of Laura Yvonne Bulk
Team

Yeah Spencer, good idea.
There are various models, and I'm afraid that I don't know which if any is used most. I'd have to look into the literature to figure out how long they've been used. Sorry I don't know more off the top of my head.

Spam
Photo of Spencer Yeh
Team

Above I mentioned getting some inspiration from the Spanx product which is designed around the "fashion" dimension. I think a Spanx-type product reinforced with technology from motorcycle protective gear would be an informative direction. Thoughts?

Spam
Photo of Spencer Yeh
Team

Actually I'm thinking the best approach would be to test out Spanx and improve it incrementally to be strong enough to prevent hip fractures, if it is not already. An added bonus would be a flat tummy, which could be listed as an additional feature ;)) lol. Spanx is already designed to be used under other clothing, is a tough material, is produced already in mass quantities, and is intended to be fashionable. http://www.spanx.com/shapewear/thinstincts-mid-thigh-short-38-ms10005?1689=9999 . The company would likely be enthused about extending their manufacturing capabilities to a broad new market. They could be approached with this proposed new repurposing for their existing technology. I would think that a combination of Spanx technology and technology for motorcycle protective gear should be a good combination approach. Thoughts? It should be noted that I've never actually seen the Spanx product; I just know about it from its reputation.

Here is the original Spanx patent: http://patents.justia.com/patent/9326552

Spam
Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Mariah. I have enjoyed our conversations across the challenge. Thanks for adding me to the team!

Spam
Photo of Laura Yvonne Bulk
Team

Interesting idea!
I recommend you do some research about the evidence for the effectiveness of 'hip protectors' which are often worn by older adults living in long term care.
Also, consider the breathability of the material used.

Spam
Photo of Laura Yvonne Bulk
Team

Sorry, only just saw the whole conversation below! But perhaps the first comment I made is still relevant :)

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Mariah!

What a fun, interesting idea! What are the properties of bubble wrap? Is it flammable, toxic etc.?

Have you seen the research post Looking to nature for stronger materials for clothing, walking sticks, etc ?

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Kate,

Fun to see your enthusiastic response. Yes, I did see that nature-inspired-materials one. Bubble-wrap might be the ultimate UN-natural material. Good questions about toxicity, etc. I don't know. Obviously it's of interest because it successfully keeps so many shipped items safe, despite lots of jostling. Not being a materials expert, I'd want to sit down with someone who understands a variety of materials (industrial, natural, etc) and, together, consider then test what might possibly work. Might not ultimately be bubble wrap. (Styrofoam peanuts, anyone?)

Brings to mind a humor column by Dave Barry on the "black boxes" airlines use to protect important data in case of a crash: "Why don't they make the whole airplane out of that?" :-)

Spam
Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Mariah.
I saw an old med school friend yesterday and we were catching up. He practices cardiology. I told him about this challenge. His response was that you can't prevent falls and you should consult the fashion industry - think about cushioning the falls with shoulder pads and hip pads. I told him there were a few ideas around this approach out there! Wanted to share that thought with you!
Building on your conversation with Kate I wonder if speaking to textile designers might inform some ideas on a wide variety of materials? Also maybe designers who design for sports, and space travel?

Spam
Photo of Susan Jackewicz
Team

Mariah, Scott Shirbin & all,
I think while some people would be open to trying clothing made from bubble wrap, it's so true, people usually want to be very comfortable and many don't want to "stand out". When they have to stop and think about "putting on a thing" that will prevent an injury, frequently it's seen as a medical device - and then biases about not being able-bodied can come into play. But Mariah, I like your approach, and agree with Bettina, maybe there's inspiration from new technologies in textile design. There's an interesting group you many want to connect with - the ArcinTexETN project - profiled in this article about new thinking in textile design: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170130083302.htm And here: http://www.arcintexetn.eu/ What they're doing recalls some of Scott's research post on looking to nature for stronger materials.

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Bettina,

I'm just back from a busy business trip; sorry for the delayed reply. Naturally your comments made me smile; thanks for passing along this story. The prospect of using hip pads and other sports equipment as a launching point makes a lot of sense, since these materials were specifically designed to protect PEOPLE from falls, whereas bubble wrap is designed to protect THINGS from falls. It would be fascinating to bring this conversation to a textile designer and see how they respond. Thank you!

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much. You're right about not standing out - unless we could somehow make the clothing not only acceptable but possibly even "cool" - and also perhaps we could make the clothing WORK, so that word would spread about falls that did not result in fractures, which would hasten adoption. In my observations, old people very much do not want to stand out by using a walker or cane either - yet they adjust to these devises as needed. So special clothing could be something that does make them feel odd at first - but they accept as an important health/fall prevention aid.

Spam
Photo of Guillermo Escudero
Team

I don´t think that´s a good idea. Old people want to dress comfy and feel free as they do their thing.

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Guillermo, Of course this might not be a good idea at all, and I appreciate your candor. However, now that we're here... let me think out loud and explain myself some more. The photo makes this look trivial and ridiculous. However - fall prevention is serious business, and people will go to great lengths to avoid falls.

Old people want to dress comfy, you say, and I agree. They also don't want to use canes, walkers, or wheelchairs. Yet they often give in, eventually, to these assistive devices because they need to. They accept a new reality. My mom, for instance, HATED the prospect of using a walker. Yet, as she needed it more and more... she eventually gave in. The choice was - either use a walker or use just a cane and lurch around feeling terribly off-balance and anxious, risking breaking a hip in a fall. After much agonizing, she chose the walker.

Similarly, some elders would resist these new bubble-wrap-type clothes. Fine. But maybe some would welcome them (ideally the clothes would be attractive and not too bulky) because the clothes would help them feel (and be) safer - just as canes and walkers do.

I respect your opinion; I'm just developing the idea a bit in response to your comment. I think one key to successful ideation is to think outside the box. Inside this particular box, I found bubble wrap! :-) I took the bubble wrap out of the box and am showing it around, wondering how or if it (or something like it) might be useful. Thanks for chiming in.

Spam
Photo of Shabir Hussain
Team

Hi Mariah,
I dont think it would be suitable idea specially for our society

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Ok. Thanks for the feedback. It would certainly only appeal to a certain type of person.

Spam
Photo of Lillian J Warner
Team

Hi Mariah Burton Nelson --thank you for your post. I loved reading about your idea. The research phase of this challenge has shown that older people devise all sorts of "hacks" for improving their balance and mobility in their day to day life. I think some people would absolutely be interested in a wearable fall prevention outfit/piece of clothing/accessory. It sounds like you've already thought of ways to pursue prototyping for this idea--I think they sound great, and I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Spam
Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson
Team

Hi Lillian, Sorry for the delayed response. I really appreciate your willingness to think outside the box with me. And yes, seniors, like the rest of us, do devise all sorts of "hacks" to manage. Ever notice the half-tennis balls on the bottom of walkers? That's a good example of an elder-hack. I guess the balls help the walkers slide across surfaces better. To be honest I have not given much serious thought to how to prototype this; mostly I'm just tossing ideas up onto this site to support others' work and get people thinking. So I too will look forward to hearing more!