A New Smart Cane May Be on the Horizon


Wooden canes

At least 4.8 million people in the United States use some sort of device to help them with their mobility. The most common thing people use around the country to help prevent falls is a cane for walking. It has been estimated that about 70% of people who use mobility devices, use stylish walking canes or stylish walking sticks to get around safely.

Now the cane for walking is about to get an upgrade. Engineers at Vanderbilt University are working on a new kind of cane that can provide and analysis of the way a person walks, also called their gait while giving them the support they need. By doing the gait analysis, they can see how likely a person is to fall. Called the “IntelliCane” can tell whether a person is at risk for a fall based on their walking pattern as well as a physical therapist.

This can be a big deal for senior citizens all over the nation. At least 10% of the people are over 62 use a cane for walking. These smart canes may be able to prevent a fall. When you consider the fact that every 11 seconds, an older American is seen in an emergency room for a fall, you can see how important it is to prevent these accidents, which result in serious injury.

Older Americans are not the only ones who could benefit from the use of these new canes. A number of younger people suffer from diseases or injuries that can have an impact on their balance. These include head injuries, ear infections, strokes, spinal injuries, and stenosis, and more. These are other kinds of people who are helped by the use of a cane for walking.

Vanderbilt professor of mechanical and computer engineering, Nilanjan Sarkar, said that he did not realize how many people could benefit from the use of a new kind of cane. It was not until he started looking into what can be done with canes that he saw how many people’s lives could be improved.

Today, the way to tell how likely it is that a person will suffer a fall is determined by an exam done by a physical therapist. The patient is monitored while they walk under several sets of conditions. There is rating scale used by most physical therapists. This is called the overall risk estimate. The problem is that person’s risk can change throughout the day. It is impossible to see a patient all of the time and understand how a person walks all of the time.

Sarkar, working with Joshua Wade, a graduate student at Vanderbilt, started working on a way to help physical therapists to better assess the risks of falling for their patients. They looked at current technologies that are used to look a person’s gait. Often body sensors are used. They are places in patients’ shoes and on their body but even this method has drawbacks.

Sarkar and Wade thought there had to be a better way. The duo bought a cane for walking and added internal sensors to which they connected a wireless microcontroller. This can give researchers data in real-time to show how well a person is walking. After the data is analyzed, a fuller picture of that person’s gait is sussed out.

The next step was to test it on real people. They have people use the IntelliCane while walking around. These people were then given the same instructions physical therapists give when they do their assessments of patients’ gaits. They found the cane was able to accurately determine the risk a person had of falling. The creators believe that this new kind of cane for walking can anticipate issues with a person’s gait and prevent falls.

They think that not only can this new cane for walking prevent the need for wheelchairs and walkers but may help doctors diagnose a number of illnesses such as Parkinson’s. This cane may be useful for the diagnosis of any illness or disease that causes problems with balance. The gait of a person suffering from Parkinson’s is very different from that of a person with multiple sclerosis, for instance.

Sarkar and Wade have started a new company to manufacture and sell the cane.

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