In the year 2000, U.S. seniors 65 or older fell and required medical treatment 2.6 million times. The total price tag was $19 billion for direct medical costs alone. A bit more than a third of these incidents resulted in bone fractures, but these accounted for more than 60% of the costs. Clearly, if we can identify individuals who are at risk of falling, we may be able to prevent a significant number of these incidents and thus save an enormous amount of money (not to mention making life a lot better for these seniors). The problem is that the equipment typically used to perform such evaluations is very expensive.

Researchers from the Burke Medical Research Institute in White Plains, NY have come up with a less costly way to screen seniors for fall risks. They found that data produced by a standard Microsoft Kinect 2 correlates well with the results from more expensive equipment. In a feasibility trial with 12 healthy subjects, they compared data from the Kinect with a force plate. The subjects sat on the plate with both feet on the floor, then raised one leg out straight, then raised both legs out straight. The measure of their postural stability was actually more accurate with the Kinect.

These results point to the possibility of using this technology for low-cost screening of seniors for fall risk. It could even be used in the home and in telehealth applications. It is simple enough that it could be used to maintain longitudinal tracking of a person’s stability in order to detect either slow or rapid onset of impairment. When it has been determined that a person is at a higher risk of falling, healthcare professionals can recommend compensating measures, such as exercises or walking aids, to reduce the chance of a fall. The result will be fewer falls, less pain and disruption of the lives of seniors and their caregivers, and an overall cost savings.