LTU department chair develops mobile technology to reduce falls by seniors

Thomas Goulding, chair of LTU’s Department of Math and Computer Science, is leading a team of physicians, scientists, and professors who have developed a product using mobile technology to alert health care providers when an elderly person is about to get out of a wheelchair.

Falling is a serious problem for the elderly with potentially life-changing and even fatal results. Thousands of falls occur every year when an elderly person in a wheelchair attempts to walk without the assistance that he or she needs. But caregivers can’t watch an elderly person at all times.

The research team has come up with a simple electronic device named Sparrow that will alert a caregiver when an elderly person makes movements in preparation for leaving the wheelchair. Sparrow is a mobile Android device that will provide the caregiver with continuous information about the movement and posture of someone in a wheelchair. That information will allow the caregiver to come to the patient’s aid before a potentially life-threatening fall occurs.

Sparrow fuses multiple sensors, a microprocessor, artificial intelligence and Internet technologies into a tool that is easy to use and which requires little administration and a minimum of staff training.

“It was extraordinarily difficult to design a product like Sparrow that has to be extraordinarily simple to use,” Goulding said.
The product, which has been in development for four years, is entering into clinical testing in Michigan and Massachusetts early in 2016.

Goulding is the primary architect of the device and the co-founder of ElderSafe Technologies Inc, along with Leon Deligiannidis, a researcher at MIT. Together they have published results of their work on Sparrow in peer-reviewed biomedical and bioinformatics journals.

The idea was born when Deligiannidis’ mother-in-law had a fatal fall. His wife was just a few feet away in another room, but couldn’t prevent the fall from happening because she hadn’t been alerted to her mother’s movements.

Recently, several LTU students have become involved by helping to develop marketing and technical documents for Sparrow. Faculty member Na Yu has done some mathematical modeling, and adjunct Hans Mills is working on software and testing with Goulding.