Thursday, November 13, 2008

Get Smart Shoe

As I inch towards geezerhood, I'm increasingly interested in the technology that's going to keep us doddering old Baby Boomers up and, if not exactly running, then at least walking.

One use of technology is the iShoe - it had to happen, didn't it? - which I read about in an AP article I saw on a while back.

The iShoe - which is actually an iInsole - was developed by Erez Lieberman, a graduate student at a joint Harvard-MIT health sciences and technology program.

It doesn't prevent falls, but gathers information, and provides an early warning system if someone's in danger of falling. Falls can be catastrophic for the elderly. Many result in hip fractures, and hip fractures have a surprisingly lousy mortality rate. (According to the article, 24 percent of those over - ahem - the age of 50 die within a year of fracturing their hip. Many others end up disabled. For joy!)

Having fallen myself last year and broken my shoulder, a fall is no bed of roses for the pre-elderly, either. I also know that, when my mother was still living, we worried constantly that she would take a bad fall, with our two main "worry zones" being the "scatter rugs" that she had on the slippery hardwood floor next to her bed, and the steep cellar stairs she went down to do the laundry. My mother did take one spill, but it wasn't a catastrophic one. Still, we worried, and did our best to spill-proof her environment. Boy, did she hold on to those scatter rugs!

The sensors in the iShoe insole monitor the wearer's balance, which tends to worsen as we age. There are exercises for improving one's balance , which - by the way - you're never too young to get working on.

The idea for the iShoe came from work done for NASA to help astronauts get back down to earth after living in zero gravity conditions. (Who says the space program is a waste of time and money?)

The iShoe, with a half dozen sensors, is not an instant alarm, though it will send out a signal if the wearer actually falls. It's more like a data recorder that the user can bring to a doctor or balance specialist for help if the dangerous pressure patterns are seen.

Once a balance problem's detected, the doctor can figure out the cause and the cure.

The iShoe is still in development, but it's general availability is not that far off.

But for those who don't want to wait around for the iShoe, or who don't want to have to worry about improving their balance, there's always the personal airbag (as written up by the BBC).

A Japanese company - Prop (great name, eh?) - has come up with a device that the elderly can just strap on and fall away. The device inflates when it detects the wearer falling, and has two separate air pockets to cushion the fall: one behind the head, the other around the hips. (Best not to fall flat on your face: no airbag.)

With its aging and aged population, Japan is big into assistive devices for the aging and aged.

The personal air bag isn't cheap - $1.4K - but what price safety?

And by the time I need one, the price will no doubt have come down. Or the iShoe will be so perfected that it will actually prevent a fall to begin with.

Not that I'm looking forward to being an old geezer or anything, but I'm sure happy that scientists are at work to help make sure that we can stay our independent, crotchety, geezery old selves.

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