Enabling Balance in Older Adults with Wearable AI Technology

To keep up with the world’s rapidly aging population, the NAM launched the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a multi-stage global competition designed to seek out bold, innovative, and breakthrough ideas that challenge the way we think about aging. The Catalyst Award, the first stage of the competition, rewards exciting opportunities that display prospective improvement in the mental, physical, and social well-being of individuals as they age. Emrah Bayrak and Antonia Zaferiou lead one of NAM’s 45 U.S.-based Catalyst Award-Winning projects. We hear from Emrah and Antonia, both Assistant Professors at Stevens Institute of Technology, who speak to their project seeking to mitigate falls and promote balance in older adults by using assistive wearable artificial technology.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your team? How did you come to work together? What advantages does your interdisciplinary team bring?

Our team consists of two junior faculty members at Stevens Institute of Technology. A. Emrah Bayrak is an assistant professor at the School of Systems and Enterprises and Antonia Zaferiou is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Zaferiou and her lab have been focused on improving older adult balance to extend functional aging. Dr. Bayrak and his lab have been advancing trust in AI systems for healthcare applications. Due to this Healthy Longevity competition, we combined research interests and brainstormed how to synergistically leverage our strengths to improve health as people age.

We both already had a shared interest in advancing technology to help older adults. Through our conversations in a self-organized, early-career writing group, we decided to combine our expertise on artificial intelligence and biomechanics to develop a solution to address falls for older adults. Our team brings a unique combination of skills and distinct backgrounds to develop the novel smart system solution we proposed in the project.

Please tell us about your innovative idea/project. Why it is particularly innovative, bold, and/or novel?

We are developing a smart wearable system with personalized artificial intelligence (AI) to improve balance in older adults and prevent falls, which are still one of the major causes of mortality and morbidity in that age group. Older adults will be able to use this system on a daily basis through training sessions. Our system will then suggest ways for them to improve their balance through a novel biofeedback mechanism. There are a few unique aspects of our research that make it innovative. Major themes include our prioritization of (1) user-centered design to collaborate with older adults throughout the design process, (2) trust and transparency in AI, and (3) personalization of balance analysis and training. Other technical aspects that help our research stand out are that we are using multiple wearable sensors to assess balance control as a whole-body phenomenon and that we are leveraging music and sound as one of the balance biofeedback modalities.

What motivated you to apply to the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards? What advice would you have to other prospective applicants?

We were motivated because the main theme of “healthy longevity” is in line with our common goal in research to mitigate fall-risk. We would like to extend functional aging in our community through engaging older adults early in the design process of our balance training system so that we create systems that they really trust and look forward to interacting with as they gain agency and confidence in their balance control.

How do you see your project advancing and contributing to the future of healthy longevity?

We envision older adults of the future interacting with wearable sensors and transparent AI systems to continually improve their ability to balance on a daily basis. We also believe that interacting with this type of at-home technology will improve the public’s understanding of biomechanics, AI, and sensors.

Our project will lead to this future of healthy longevity, where older adults are emboldened to have ownership over their personal and continually changing balance abilities through collaborating with our technology on a daily basis. We embrace the idea that there is already a critical mass of older adults who can, and would like to, improve their balance through interaction with personalized and advanced technology. We aim to understand their preferences and needs through interactions with the older adults as the focused user group and develop the right solution that they can comfortably use. Our system will enable identifying the unique balance issues that older adults have via a personalized AI and help address these issues through the use of a novel biofeedback system.

A. Emrah Bayrak, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology

Antonia Zaferiou, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology.

To learn more about the NAM’s Catalyst Awardees, check out these stories. For more information about the global Healthy Longevity Global Competition, click here. We appreciate your support in advancing innovative solutions to promote health throughout the human lifespan. Email healthylongevity@nas.edu for questions about the award.

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