‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” is more than just a tag line to an old (and famous) TV commercial for an emergency alert system; it’s a harsh reality that cost society billions of dollars a year. Technology to the rescue; an Israeli company called B-Shoe has developed a sensor-laden “smart shoe” that can detect when its wearer loses his or her balance, and can take preventive action to prevent a fall from taking place.
One of the main reasons the elderly end up in the hospital has to do with a lack of balance – leading them to fall. According to statistics, one out of three people aged 65 and older fall annually in the United States; for those 72 and older, it’s one out of every two people. By age 80, according to statistics, suffering at least one fall a year is almost inevitable.
Falls account for 25% of hospital admissions and 40% of nursing home admissions – and of those who enter nursing homes because of falls, about a quarter die within a year, statistics show. All told, elderly falls cost the U.S. as much as $75 billion a year. There really has been no solution for elderly falls other than having them use canes or walkers, which many hold out using for as long as they can avoid it – or until it’s too late.
After the father of one of B-Shoe’s six co-founders, Dr. Yonatan Manor, fell down at age 80 (fortunately with no untoward consequences), he began researching the science of falling, hoping to understand how falls take place so that they could be dealt with scientifically. After studying the literature and medical research about the bio-mechanics of the human body, balance maintenance and disorder, center of gravity, base of support and the backward step which healthy and younger people take to regain balance – which older people often do not take because of slowed reflexes – he came up with the idea for B-Shoe, Manor said.
B-Shoe (B is for “balancing”) utilizes sensors and an embedded integrated motion device to detect when a wearer loses balance. Using patented algorithms and a tiny microprocessor, the motion device rolls the shoe slightly and gently backward until the person regains balance. The sensors ensure that the corrective action is taken only when needed.
B-Shoe, led by Manor and a team of medical and engineering professionals, including Abraham Stamper, Prof. Michael Soudry, Aharon Shapiro, Professor Carlos Gordon, and Prof. Nahum Rosenberg, has been doing its development at the Hi-Center accelerator in Haifa, and has partnered with Sysmop Technologies Ltd for development of some of the computer components of the product. B-Shoe is currently running a crowdfunding effort to raise money for further commercial development of the product. While the prototype already exists, the company plans to expand its effectiveness by building a detector that can give the wearer an alert if s/he is coming close to an object or situation that could cause them to lose balance.
“It is not easy pioneering the world of fall prevention but this is just what we set out to do,” said Manor. “As the only real solution out there today, compared to alert systems or assisting aids, we are navigating uncharted waters and any support from the world wide community is helpful. After all, we all have older relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors and we’re all at risk of falling once we hit 65 and older so it stands to reason that a fall prevention solution is much needed.”