Walking aids are widely used by older adults for stability and mobility, and the number of users is rising as the population ages. Alarmingly, use of walking aids has been linked to an increased falls-risk, yet clinicians have no objective way of assessing user stability. We have recently developed the first objective measure of stability of walking aid users [Costamagna et al. 2017], which offers a way of addressing this problem. The measure, termed the stability margin (SM), is calculated using force measurements taken from each of the walking aid’s legs and the user’s shoes, together with the position of the anatomical feet relative to the walking aid. To measure these forces we have already instrumented three walking aids with load cells (a Zimmer frame, a front-wheeled walker and a rollator) which allow for calculation of SM. Our prototype systems are now being used in a number of studies of user stability. This application aims to pave the way for clinical adoption as follows:
We will be working closely with the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust as our clinical partner, and also with Trustech, an organization who bridges the gap between NHS Providers/Commissioners and the commercial, academic and international healthcare sectors, to facilitate the development or adoption of new medical technology for improved patient care.
Longer-term, smart walking aids have the potential to benefit older people through evidence-based prescription and user training, thereby enhancing mobility whilst reducing falls, and allowing users to walk independently and safely for longer.