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Public-private partnership helping elderly, supporting research

One in three older adults experiences a fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but thanks to a public-private partnership, New Mexico State University faculty and LifeSupport Medical are working to understand how they can help seniors prevent falls.


A man helping another man walk on a mobile sensor pad.
LifeSupport Medical employee works with a senior to assess the man's risk for falling. The research instrument is part of a mobile lab developed in conjunction with New Mexico State University. (Photo Courtesy of LifeSupport Medical)
A truck pulling a large trailer displaying photos of people.
The Electronic Caregiver Mobile Fall-Risk Prevention Laboratory, developed in collaboration between New Mexico State University and LifeSupport Medical, is a tool that can be used to predict if older adults have an elevated risk of falling. The mobile lab is on a nationwide tour. (Photo Courtesy of LifeSupport Medical)
Studio head shot of NMSU professor Bob Wood.
Bob Wood, a professor and academic department head of the Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation in the New Mexico State University College of Education. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Falls can lead to death, disability and decreased quality of life, but the Mobile Fall-Risk Prevention Laboratory, developed in collaboration between NMSU and LifeSupport Medical, is a tool that can be used to predict if older adults have an elevated risk of falling. The mobile lab, which is currently on a nationwide tour, was developed based on research by Bob Wood, a professor and academic department head of the Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation in the NMSU College of Education.

Similar to a lab on campus based on a falls-risk assessement that Wood developed with colleagues, the mobile lab components include sensor pressure pads and 3D motion cameras. A team of three people can set up the mobile lab in about 30 minutes. The walkable pressure pad is used to record the movements of the subjects and records everything from the amount of weight the test subject uses on each part of their foot to the distance between strides during normal walking movement.

"The NMSU partnership is our most valued affiliation. Our Electronic Caregiver systems provide at-home medication management and medical emergency response during a crisis," said Anthony Dohrmann, CEO LifeSupport Medical. "NMSU has elevated our offerings to the aging and chronically ill to epic new proportions. Because of the NMSU partnership we have opened a clinical research division with the focus of preventing medical emergencies and injuries before they happen."

Wood said the partnership has been valuable for the university as well.

"They provide opportunities for research for us through outreach efforts, including recruiting seniors to participate in our falls studies, they provide equipment so we can enhance the work we are doing in our labs and they also are collecting data according to the specifications we have developed so we can increase the power of our findings and the generalizability of the work we are doing," Wood said.

Wood said this work has the potential for intelectual property transfer and commericialization and LifeSupport Medical is an ideal partner.

"The company wants to demonstrate that their product line is based on evidence," Wood said. "To do that they need support from the scientific community, so we have helped develop approaches they can take out into communities to collect data in ways that are scientifically sound."

"We believe that deeper collaboration with NMSU and our Electronic Caregiver company will result in advancements in diagnostic hardware and software, best practices, patient aids and consumables, clinical trials, publications, advancements in prosthetics and a variety of other beneficial, life improving, life saving applications," Dohrmann said.

Ironically, Wood said initially, he and his colleagues were just looking for a way to attract seniors to become more physically active, but they realized quickly that the information gathered through their assessment tool could be used to evaluate falls risk.

"Screening data helps us explore health disparities to identify the risks for different groups," Wood said. "For example, more affluent individuals have a lot of home hazards, but less affluent people have more risks associated with poor vision care. We look at the demographics and try to focus on things that might be problematic for each individual," he said.

The Comprehensive Fall Risk Screening Instrument is available online for individuals who would like to determine their risk for falling. The online tool provides a report to individuals comparing their assessment to normative data on older adults. For more information about the online version, contact Wood at bobwood@nmsu.edu.