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The answer to one of the great ageing population challenges?

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How new sensing technology is utilising machine learning to detect falls with greater  accuracy and reliability.   

In less than 50 years, the number of over 65s in the UK is expected to grow by 8.6 million – equivalent to the London’s population.

This means by 2066, 20.4 million people will be in this bracket, making up more than a quarter (26%) of the population.

While a positive reflection on our improved living and healthcare standards, the ageing population presents great challenges.

Among them is dealing with the aftermath of falls, which are estimated to affect one in three over 65s at some point and are a major, if perhaps overlooked, cause of injury.

The Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) reported that in 2017 to 2018 there were around 220,160 emergency hospital admissions related to falls among patients aged 65 and over, with around 146,665 (66.6%) of these patients aged 80 and over.

Meanwhile, unaddressed fall hazards in the home are estimated to cost the NHS in England £435m.

The total annual cost of fragility fractures to the UK has been estimated at £4.4bn which includes £1.1bn for social care; hip fractures account for around £2bn of this sum.

The advancement of fall reduction and detection technology, then, could be critical in helping public health authorities better deal with the huge contribution to annual injuries made by falls.

AI, machine learning and data analysis have proven particularly fruitful on this front. For example, the El Camino Hospital in California used predictive analytics to reduce hospital fall rates by 39 per cent in a six-month period. This was achieved in partnership with an analytics firm, examining electronic health record data and real time info, including medication intake and vitals.

Other such research projects in recent years have involved monitoring the gait speed and stride length in residential homes using sensors – and alerting staff when these decreased.

This year, however, the battle to reduce the impact of falls in the over 65s could take a leap forward with the rollout of new technology that addresses some of the flaws of current detection methods.

Israeli telecare firm Essence SmartCare has launched MDsense, which the company claims to be the first “multi-dimensional” fall detection solution available to the global care market.

The tech is currently being evaluated by Essence SmartCare’s customers in Israel, Brazil, the US, Netherlands, Australia and the UK. It is expected to be launched by its customers to end users in the coming few months.

The company says current fall detection solutions suffer from inaccuracy and a lack of reliability. This leads to a high ratio of false alarms, which major service providers deem to be the greatest pain point in dealing with senior falls.

Barak Katz (pictured), general manager, Essence SmartCare says: “The general feeling from the professional care market is that since the level of compliance with wearable solutions is extremely low, any technology that removes the onus of wearing a device and provides a more seamless solution will greatly increase their ability to care for them.”

Essence research has found that less than half of those in residential care wear fall detection devices. This new product provides fall protection by monitoring events using wall mounted intelligent sensors rather than wearable devices.

The company says this enables caregivers to react quicker to verified falls while maintaining resident’s complete privacy. It has no video or sound function, operates 24/7, works in light or dark rooms and can differentiate between multiple people and pets.

Essence has plans to expand its reach in the UK market. Its products are currently available through its first UK partner, Appello. With the launch of MDsense, the company aims to expand its network of partners in the near future.

Katz says: “The UK is one of our primary targets for the MDsense as the penetration rate of telecare services in the UK is wider than most other countries.

“The UK is particularly interested in finding new technology-based solutions to help them prevent falls among the elderly and has a strong infrastructure though local authorities who provide a high level of service to the elder care market.

“Essence SmartCare already employs several local sales and support members in the UK and our existing product line has been tailored to the needs of the UK customer. We’re excited to continue our growth into the UK market.”

Although there are several similar solutions on the market, these rival devices rely on a single sensing technology (radar or optical).

According to Essence, MDsense is unique in its use of multiple sensors, which are able to learn more about the positioning of the resident, minimises false detections and improve accuracy.

Katz says: “MDsense is a wall mounted device that uses a combination of multi-sensing technologies and machine learning capabilities to scan a room and detect the positioning of the room’s occupant.

“The device does not need to sense the fall incident itself, rather it uses its machine learning algorithm to compare the current positioning to the previous positioning and the current movement of the occupant.

“So, in cases where existing fall detecting technology fail to detect a fall, the MDsense will be able to give an accurate verified indication that a fall has occurred. All of this without using a camera and encroaching on the resident’s privacy.”

MDsense has been in development for 24 months, as huge amounts of data on human movements, positioning and other information that forms part of the data analysis that goes into the device’s decision-making process has been gathered.

Essence says its new product will evolve to include more capabilities in the sensing of relevant vital signs sensing using sensors within the device.

As it is deployed more widely, the company will collect data such as types of falls, user movement and behaviour pre-fall and post-fall to enhance its ability to detect and possibly predict falls.

Katz says: “Fall detection needs to be more all-encompassing and manage the entire cycle of falls instead of just concentrating on the fall event itself.

“Comprehensive falls management, that considers behavioural and medical factors, give the elderly and vulnerable more ways receive help quicker and prevent future falls from happening.

“Essence SmartCare is adopting this holistic approach and already provides much of the required solution with more developments on the way.”

Katz says: “Our vision is to use technology to make lives better. We believe that our multi-dimensional technology will make the walls of care facilities smarter and ultimately make the home safer, allowing elderly and vulnerable people to live longer, better, with fewer worries about falling which impact their freedom and self-esteem.”

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