Researchers in Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering are developing falls prevention sensors for use by residents of senior living communities and private homes that can determine both who is in danger and where they are.

The technology by Pei Zhang, Ph.D., associate research professor, and Hae Young Noh, Ph.D., assistant professor, monitors a person’s gait and can send alerts not only to nurses and caregivers but also to the individual if the person’s gait changes “threateningly.” Although the goal of the technology is to anticipate and prevent falls, it also is programmed to immediately notify someone, including an emergency responder, should an individual experience a sudden fall, even if the person is unconscious.

“Many older adults in senior care facilities are restricted to wheelchairs when not under the direct care of a nurse, but this technology could allow them to regain some of their independence,” Noh said in a statement. Her sensors are being tested at Vincentian Home, a continuing care retirement community in Pittsburgh, and at Lucas Physical Therapy and Fitness in Sunnyvale, CA.

Of 1,900 people Zhang and Noh surveyed, slightly more than 1,000 said they are concerned that a parent may fall, and 70% of them said they worry at least every week, if not every day. The frequency and amount people worry is not influenced by whether the parent lives by himself or herself or not, although survey-takers overall were slightly less troubled if the parent lived in an assisted living community or senior care center. Sixty-two percent of those with parents in assisted living or senior care facilities said they still worry once a week or every day, however.

“Our sensors are designed to predict and anticipate falls so individuals can worry less about their parent,” Zhang said.