According to the National Council on Aging, 25% of the population above the age of 65 fall every year. Other studies show that falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions. 40% of those admitted do not return to independent living and 25% die within a year. Unknown and unpredictable changes in terrain are a significant cause of falls in older adults and the fear of such falls severely impacts active living. When talking to many members of the blind community, they expressed that one of their primary fears is changes in elevation and that they knew people whose lives had been lost due to tripping over curbs. My goal is to remove the guesswork out of navigating elevation changes by having vulnerable populations use a simple assistive device that can be worn on their clothing or mounted to a cane or walker to alleviate their fears.
During outdoor activities, be it walking around the neighborhood or going to the grocery store, the most prominent unknown and unpredictable elevation change is a curb. Older adults, especially those using canes, are most susceptible to falls caused by curbs and some lead to fatalities. According to the CDC, 19% of pedestrian fatalities are of people in the 65+ population. Vision and tactile detection are the two main ways to detect a curb. If someone has problems with their vision, using their eyes to notice curbs can be challenging. As for tactile detection, bumping into curbs can cause instability leading to a fall. Though tactile paving can help with identifying the end of sidewalks and possibly prevent hazardous step downs a lot of seniors have reduced sensation in their feet making it harder to detect step downs.
Indoors, a variety of elevation changes like stairs and step ups and downs between rooms can be trip hazards thus leading to falls. Even if older adults learn to navigate these changes in elevation in their own home they may be fearful of unknown locations due to the unknown terrain. This fear of falling may prevent them from going to new public or private locations like museums and homes of friends and family.
My assistive device uses a combination of sensors and precision measurement algorithms to detect the changes in elevation. Once the curb or step is detected, the user is alerted to the presence of the change in elevation via haptic feedback. Due to the simplistic design and a straightforward feedback loop, the response to the detections is fast and reliable. There is no complex programming or syncing to devices needed to get started. This minimal learning curve makes the device extremely user-friendly to the senior population. The low manufacturing cost (<$50) makes it affordable for older adults who may have limited incomes. Additionally, the device is designed to be discrete so it has less stigma associated with it.
All in all, the device assists the user in the most effective and efficient manner keeping their needs and limitations at the focal point. The invention helps imbibe the senior with a sense of autonomy. This sense of autonomy and independence positively impacts their spirits and morale which in turn has a positive impact on their health. This device grants the autonomy to the elderly population helping them interact with the world without the fear of falling.