Using AI to Recognize and Avoid Fall-Related Injuries in Older Adults

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. Rebecca Tarbert is one of NAM’s 45 U.S.-based Catalyst Awardees. We hear from Rebecca, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, who speaks to their award-winning project “Human Activity Recognition to Avoid Fall Related Injuries in the Older Adult Population”.

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?

I am a Physical Therapist specializing in geriatrics and serving as the Vice President of Clinical Programs with ActiveProtective Technologies. We have a team of engineers, clinicians, and gerontologists who all share the mission of making mobility safer for older adults at risk of major fall injuries. Our small team brings specialized skill sets to move this project forward and embed user-based technology into everyday life.

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

We have created a smartbelt that utilizes a 3D sensor for analysis of human motion with the specific purpose of deploying airbags to attenuate impact force away from the femur in the context of a serious hip-impacting fall. This body worn sensor is able to detect and provide information on fall and near-fall motions such as slips, trips, loss of balance, etc., and can offer insight for effective intervention from medical and rehabilitation providers. The types of motions precipitating falls and resulting in falls can provide context by which future falls can be avoided. This project seeks to establish accuracy for our measurement of human motion, which can be catalogued and used to qualify activity distinguishment. Labeling this motion will enable critical insight into motion analytics for clinical teams in the future.

What inspired you to develop your project? Was improving health for people as they age your original goal, or did that objective become apparent later on in the process?

Our goal has always been to improve the health of people as they age with a belief that major hip injuries are preventable. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for those 65 and older and severe disability and reduced quality of life are often outcomes. Fall prevention strategies guided by the CDC have been embedded into care plans throughout the medical system but have not significantly reduced fall-related injuries. Insight into movement patterns related to near falls and fall motions can offer clinical teams new and objective insight for addressing the root causes for those at risk of falls and fall injuries.

How might your innovative idea/project lead to a future breakthrough in the field of healthy longevity?

The utilization of accurate motion recognition will enable care teams and individuals critical insight into motion analytics for clinical intervention based on objective data over time and captured in real world events instead of the current practice of assessment of fall risk with standardized evaluations at the time of a clinical visit. Continually monitoring the motion of the individual and how they respond to perturbations in their own day-to-day environment and activities can offer insight into mitigation strategies and treatment to avoid fall scenarios in their future.

How do you see your project advancing in the future?

Upon establishment of accuracy, this motion recognition smartbelt will be piloted in true wearer situations to validate the efficacy and feasibility of this level of data sharing. We will offer individuals already wearing the hip protection belt the informed option to participate in the pilot program and the program will recruit additional new users.  The device will be worn by participants during the performance of daily and routine activities within their care communities and homes to enable analysis of the motion they encounter in real-world situations for 2–4 weeks. The participant selection process will be collaborative with care teams in identifying the individuals who may most benefit from the analysis in real-world scenarios including previous falls, fall risk identification, and baseline screening. Our current clinical study is working to provide the safety and efficacy of the device by which to achieve medical device designation from the Food and Drug Administration in 2024 and work with insurance providers to offer the device to their customers in need within benefits provided.

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

We have always been excited to share our passion for what motion analytics can offer to the clinical community as well as to the individuals who are at risk of serious injuries from falls. Our Catalyst Award application consideration included the recognition of global interest in the Healthy Longevity Catalyst with the opportunity to be part of a network of groups focused on advancing healthy longevity. To any other group interested in applying in the future, we suggest that you consider how your idea, product, or program lends to the longevity of our population worldwide for a focused representation of how your work supports the community. Receiving this award will enable us to make mobility safer for those at risk of falls.

Rebecca Tarbert is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and serves as the Vice President of Clinical Programs at ActiveProtective.

Learn more about ActiveProtective’s work:

Researchers with project proposals can apply here in January 2024 when the Catalyst Award Application opens. To learn more about the NAM’s Catalyst Awardees, check out these stories. For more information about the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, click here. We appreciate your support in advancing innovative solutions to promote health throughout the human lifespan. Email for questions about the award.

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