How To Get House Tech That Will Prevent Falling
My mother, now 88, sufferers from a chronic back condition. The thought of her falling is always on my mind. So I was intrigued to learn about a house tech that will prevent falling. More about that later. Don’t get me wrong. My mother is far from fragile, and in fact she’s made of strong stuff.
When she was a little girl, for example, she grew up in a small African village where it was frowned on by some small- minded men for girls to seek a college education. Every week one of those hot- headed fools would make his way to her father’s house and spout some nonsense about the evils of selling good cattle to pay for a girl’s eduction. Her father would just smile, offer the jerk some fruit or a drink, the custom of hospitality had to be acknowledged, and then politely show him the door. The imbecile left without incident, no doubt thinking my grandfather would finally “listen to reason” and put a stop to my mother’s ambition.
He didn’t. Instead, he encouraged her to go as far as her mind would take her. With her father’s support, my mother was able to continue her education. This didn’t mean she was done with the antics of idiots. Take the time the white school master— principal here— accused her of spending too much time on her looks. “The fool keeps telling me to rub the lipstick from my mouth. He can’t believe it’s my own flesh. I can’t help it if he thinks I’m trying to be white”, she told her father.
Her father went to have a good talk with the headmaster and my mother was never bothered again. Later she went on to graduate from nursing school and even went to London to receive advanced training in midwifery and intensive care, making her a sought after recruit by the US State Department that was responding to a lack of specialized trained nurses at the time.
Unfortunately her career as a nurse came to an end when she suffered a slipped disk at work. Yes, she’s still made of strong stuff. She is more than her condition and won’t allow her self to be addicted to pain pills and pity.
I’m proud of her, but I still fear that she may one day take a bad fall that would be catastropic for her. It seems that I have good reason to worry. According to CDC, the Center for Disease Control, Each year, millions of older people—those 65 and older—fall. In fact, more than one out of four older people falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falling once doubles your chances of falling again.
With that said, I was excited to learn that a change in walking speed can determine if someone is injured or in danger of falling. Many hospitalizations occur as a result of falls. Thus, it would very helpful for a caregiver to know how to measure the risk of falling.
Here is Where The Technology Known as WiGait Comes in
Invented by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory ( CSAIL), and led by Professor Dina Katabi , It ’s a device capable of measuring the walking speed of several individuals using wireless signals.
What’s the goal? To find out if the quality of your gait can reveal more serious health issues. Identifying changes in someone’s strides (think shorter steps) could help researchers better understand diseases like Parkinson’s, which can be characterized by gradual differences in gait.
Why Go Wireless?
Hey, you may be asking, isn’t an activity tracker like Fitbit or Apple Watch good enough to monitor a person’s walking speed? What else would you want to use to hit that 10,000 steps-a- day goal? Here is the thing. Wearable devices such as the Fitbit work well when it comes to giving feedback to healthy individuals but are not accurate at slow walking speeds. This means they may only provide a rough estimate of speed based on step count. In other words there might be “ a measurable difference between a good step and a bad step.”
Also, one has to consider if a wearable device will cause skin or worsen skin irritation.
Unfortunately some medications used to treat ailments associated with chronic pain, such as high blood pressure, have side effects like peeling skin. According to an article in Tech Times, “In 2014, Fitbit faced a class-action lawsuit stemming from a series of reports of users experiencing skin irritation as a result of using the company’s fitness tracker. Users of the Fitbit Force fitness tracker reported rashes, peeling skin, and blisters.” I am not by any means saying that people shouldn’t use Fitbit. I think for most healthy people, who just want to keep track of how they are doing, Fitbit works fine. However, if you have a skin condition then using a device that you don’t have to wear is the way to go.
Measuring Walking Speed Using Wireless Signals
As stated, the WiGait was developed by A group of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.” In a new paper, the team presents “WiGait,” a device that can measure the walking speed of multiple people with 95 to 99 percent accuracy using wireless signals.” 
How it’s displayed
According to its creator, the device is the size of a small painting and can be placed on the wall of a person’s house. its signals emit roughly one-hundredth the amount of radiation of a standard cellphone
How WiGait Works
It works by analyzing the wireless signals and how these are reflected off a person’s body. It also uses an algorithm that can differentiate walking from other movements such as those involved when a person brushes teeth or cleans the kitchen. 
“By using in-home sensors, we can see trends in how walking speed changes over longer periods of time,” says lead author and PhD student Chen-Yu Hsu. “This can provide insight into whether someone should adjust their health regimen, whether that’s doing physical therapy or altering their medications.” 
I was watching golf the other day with my mother. She is an avid sports fan and follows the PGA schedule the way deadheads used to follow the Grateful Dead. She can tell you about every golf swing the way a deadhead can explain the guitar licks of the late Jerry Garcia. Anyway, we were sitting in the living room talking about golf swings when my mother decided to get up and get water from the kitchen. She took a couple of unsteady steps, but she made it to the kitchen without incident.
Still, the risk of her falling is always on my mind. Thus, I do everything I can to reduce the risk. I got rid of several loose rugs and replaced them with hard wood flooring. I removed protruding chairs out of the living room. I am continuously looking at her environment to make it safer.
I think the value of WiGait is providing the ability of caregivers to take a less safe environment and make it more safe for a loved one who is at risk of taking a life-changing fall.
It can also give those of us who live far from our elderly parents a peace of mind. We may be on the other side of the earth and still have the assurance of knowing how well our parent’s are feeling. I can’t think of a better use of technology.
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1.Stevens JA, Ballesteros MF, Mack KA, Rudd RA, DeCaro E, Adler G. Gender differences in seeking care for falls in the aged Medicare Population. Am J Prev Med 2012;43:59–62.
2. O’Loughlin J et al. Incidence of and risk factors for falls and injurious falls among the community-dwelling elderly. American journal of epidemiology, 1993, 137:342-54.