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INTRODUCTION

Stride Tech Medical Inc.’s mission is to prevent falls. Seniors widely use walkers to maintain mobility while reducing the risk of falls. Despite the benefits, habitually poor walker use, marked by excessive weight on the walker handles and/or excessive distance between the user and the walker, can lead to muscle atrophy, poor posture, and falls. A widely publicized investigation in 2009 showed that over 87% of severe falls with an assistive device occurred with a walker. They recommended increased time devoted to fitting and education on proper use. Eleven years later, most seniors still do not receive individualized fitting or training on how to use their walkers.

Our product, the StrideTech Go (STG), is an attachable walker accessory that integrates sensors and biofeedback onto existing walkers to correct common misuses in real-time. Grip covers embedded with sensors Velcro over the handles of a walker. An additional sensor is mounted to the frame which measures the user’s hip distance from the frame. The grip covers vibrate if the sensors detect either of the two primary indicators of walker misuse:

  • Excessive weight through the handles
  • Excessive distance between the frame of the walker and the use

StrideTech Go is the first commercial product to help fill the urgent need for long-term walker use training. This white paper will outline the technical background and testing that has been done to establish efficacy and briefly outline the next steps and improvements. 

PROTOCOL

Stride Tech defines short-term efficacy as the ability to see changes in STG measures of walker use in a single product testing session. To date, the method by which Stride Tech collects this data is through volunteers recruited at free walker repair workshops the company hosts at independent living communities. The data presented was collected from the walker repair events held at two independent living facilities. The tests are split into two sections: a baseline in which the user is asked to complete a set of three short walks (<100m) with no STG vibrational feedback. This baseline data is crucial, as it allows StrideTech to assess the range of weight and hip distances measured across different older adults. This in turn reaffirms the sensors have the adequate range and sensitivity for this population. 

Users then complete the same short walk (<100m) with vibrational feedback turned on. This is done to assess: 1. Can STG identify the two habits of walker misuse (excessive weight and/or hip distance) and 2. What is the response when vibrational feedback is triggered due to those habits, what is the response? Future White Paper case studies will discuss these responses.

RESULTS

Above are graphs of force on the walker through hands over time (top) and hip-distance between the user and the walker frame over time (bottom). The red highlighted areas of each graph indicate the trials in which we instructed the participant to place as much weight on the walker as possible while keeping the walker as far away as possible. The green highlighted areas are the trials in which the user was instructed to walk normally. Visually, a notable difference between the incorrect and normal walking trials can be seen. The average pound force on the walker decreased by 15 lbf (pound-force) for the left hand and about 10 lbf for the right hand from incorrect to normal walking trials. For the hip distance, an average drop of 9 inches was seen between the incorrect and normal walking trials. A drop in hip distance between the user and the walker is an excellent indicator that the user is walking closer to their walker and crossing their feet within the base of the walker, an agreed-upon metric of safe walker us.  Excitingly for STG, this allows us to distinguish between incorrect, unsafe walker use and normal, safe walker use both visually and numerically for individuals. 

Case Study 1 establishes STG’s ability to distinguish between incorrect/unsafe walker use and correct/safe walker use. However, it is equally (if not more) important to establish if the vibration feedback, that incorrect walker use triggers, results in decreased walker use. Essentially, can users learn to self-correct their walker use when the STG prompts them to do so?

FUTURE WORK

More data sets, with more distinguished types of walker misuse, will be needed to assess the maximal range of misuse the STG may encounter. Future feedback algorithms must be tested to ensure that STG is working as best as possible. Possible changes to the threshold include adjusting the threshold to be relative to baseline or relative to maximum range, as opposed to universally set values. Once ranges are evaluated and recorded, Stride Tech can examine how biofeedback and learning may affect walker usage over longer periods. The potential for StrideTech Go’s long-term monitoring, training, and ability to change habits is only just beginning.

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