Rehab for the Elderly Reduces Risk of Falls

September 17, 2019
Jennifer Frey

Falls are the leading cause of injury among the elderly, resulting in an estimated 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths in older Americans yearly. Unfortunately, one serious fall can set off a domino effect, leading to a downward health spiral, social isolation and depression. However, falling does not have to be an inevitable result of aging.

Professor Alon Wolf, founder and director of the Biorobotics and Biomechanics LAB (BRML) in the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.

In June 2019, the Technion launched a program that could reduce age-related losses in muscle strength and balance while heading off falls. SET (Seated Exercise Technology) is an integrated solution for the treatment and analysis of walking and balance to assist with rehabilitation for elderly and neurologically impaired people. Located in Professor Alon Wolf’s Biomechanics Lab in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the program incorporates monitors to assess walking and balance with a device that allows users to train for walking while seated, making it easier for rehabilitation professionals to optimize personal training.

Falls and their injuries are major predictors of loss of independence and admission to long-term care, which can double or triple a senior’s health care costs. In 2015, the most current statistics available from the National Council on Aging show that the total cost of fall injuries in the U.S. was $50 billion. That number is expected to reach $67.7 billion by 2020 as the population ages. By monitoring the risk of falls and providing exercise to prevent them, SET’s integrated approach will help to reduce this huge expenditure.

The program is comprised of a consortium of experts that includes: Prof. Wolf and Dr. Deborah Solomonow-Avnon at the Technion; scientists at Philips Research; researchers at RWTH Aachen University; and entrepreneurs and physicians at Mopair Technologies.

SET monitors users in their daily routine with sensors created by Philips and RWTH that screen their balance and walking quality. Those who are deemed at risk of falling are referred to SET rehabilitation, where they work with Mopair’s Balanseat. The device allows users to remain seated while they exercise and strengthen their legs and upper body torso, which is crucial for reducing risks of falls. During rehabilitation, outcomes are constantly analyzed and modified to meet the needs of the individual user.

SET is supported by a grant from EIT Health, a network of health innovators supported by the European Union, that aims to validate this integrated solution. Technion researchers will validate SET sensors for measuring walking quality on healthy users and on frail elderly who are treated by Balanseat. After this, the validated combined solution will be tested by RWTH Aachen with nursing home inhabitants to evaluate its clinical and economic value.

This integrated solution would help seniors cope with frailty and improve the lives of people who need this rehabilitation. In addition, fall prevention and targeted treatment early on could change the trajectory of an aging person’s health, and is in line with the developing trends of home rehabilitation.

For more than a century, the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology has pioneered in science and technology education and delivered world-changing impact. Proudly a global university, the Technion has long leveraged boundary-crossing collaborations to advance breakthrough research and technologies. Now with a presence in three countries, the Technion will prepare the next generation of global innovators. Technion people, ideas, and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world, innovating in fields from cancer research and sustainable energy to quantum computing and computer science to do good around the world.

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