Fall-related injuries are a major and growing global health problem. Walking aids are designed to provide stability, but their use has been reported as a major risk factor for falls. However, binary classification of an individual’s use or otherwise of a walking aid (“yes”/”no”) cannot capture the complex patterns of everyday use. As the effectiveness of walking aids in preventing falls is determined by how appropriately they are used, we asked “Are older people putting themselves at risk of falling when using a walking frame?” Using our Smart Walker System we aimed to:
- measure frame use and how stable older people are when using walking frames in home settings, in order to establish a set of benchmark data on walker usage patterns and user stability.
- identify to what extent the Smart Walker data reflects clinical guidance on walking frame use.
- Translate this information into useful clinical knowledge for promotion of safer walking aid use.
Sixteen users were recruited and their usage patterns and amount of body weight supported by their walking frame were analysed for walking in their home environment. Corresponding video allowed for investigation of environmental constraints that impact on their walking aid use. A subset of 10 walking frame users was analysed in terms of stability of the user-device system.
We found that:
- Older people may put themselves at an increased risk of falling when using their walking aids incorrectly, as their stability is reduced when the usage pattern deviates from clinical guidance.
- Walking aid users confirmed the vital role that walking aids play in their daily life, and highlighted a lack of training and guidance in how to use them safely.
- Health care professionals and industry (e.g. NRS Healthcare) highlighted the potential of the Smart Walkers to be used to inform future design of walking aids.
Funder: Dunhill Trust and Innovate UK
Team: Dr Sibylle Thies, Professor Dave Howard, Professor Malcolm Granat, Professor Laurence Kenney, Dr Rachel Russell, plus collaborators at Oxford Brookes University and AGILE.