Scientists at the University of Manchester say optical fibers laid under the carpet and electronics at it edges combine to record walking behavior, including changes that might represent a stumble or a trip.
A record of a steady deterioration or change in walking habits, the researchers said, could possibly predict a dramatic episode such as a fall.
Falls are the most serious and frequent accident in the home and account for 50 percent of hospital admissions in the over-65 age group, a Manchester release said Monday.
The technology could be vital not only for helping people in the immediate aftermath of a fall, but also in identifying subtle changes in people's walking habits which might not be spotted by a family member or caregiver, researchers said.
The "smart carpet" technology could be used in nursing homes or hospital wards or even private residences, researchers said, and physical therapists could also use the carpet to map changes and improvements in a person's gait.
"The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living space to adapt as the occupiers' needs evolve -- particularly relevant with an aging population and for those with long term disabilities -- and incorporated non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress or wall that a patient interacts with," lead researcher Patricia Scully said.
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