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ASU’s Cloud Innovation Center partners with senior living community to create smart solutions for fall prevention


Every year, three million residents over the age of 65 are treated in emergency rooms for injuries from falls, according to the CDC. This human impact, let alone the $50 billion health care cost that was recorded in 2015 (and which has only risen since, as fall death rates are on an upward trajectory), is nearly overwhelming. 

In joining the discussion taking place today during National Falls Prevention Awareness Day, we are highlighting a prototype designed by ASU’s Smart City Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) that uses smart devices to help prevent some of the most common types of falls from occurring. 

Devising a smart solution

Many falls happen during everyday activities, like when seniors get up to go to the bathroom, answer the door or turn off the TV. So how can we reduce senior falls, by even a small amount, to improve quality of life?

This was the question facing Christian Care’s Fellowship Square Mesa, a community offering independent and assisted living to seniors. Fellowship Square Mesa had a partner in identifying solutions: ASU’s CIC, which works with cities and NGOs to solve smart challenges facing everyday life.

Fellowship Square Mesa and the CIC started working on ways to prevent senior falls last year, when a series of workshops built a prototype, compiled from hours of installing and testing different devices, that could be easily scaled for relatively low cost. And as the solution enters production, they are one step closer to reaching that goal.

As part of its Senior Tech Fest event last month, a tour of an example “smart apartment” at Fellowship Square Mesa took place, which included CIC’s bedroom smart fall prevention solution. That solution uses Amazon Alexa and wifi-connected motion sensors to provide reminders and automation in an effort to reduce the causes of falls. 

Layout of the Fellowship Square Mesa Smart Apartment

For example, these sensors, plugged into a wall outlet, register when a resident swings their legs over the bed.  This movement triggers an Alexa response from an Amazon Echo in the room. At that point, Alexa can provide cautionary reminders for residents, turn on the lights and even alert staff and/or family that the resident is up and about. 

This solution is built from already existing Alexa “skills” (think apps), “routines” (which bundle and automate several tasks with a trigger, like voice commands or an alarm) and consumer-grade sensors. 

“There is a lot of automation and self-service at a significantly reduced cost than treating these falls once they happen,” said Ryan Hendrix, the CIC’s General Manager, when comparing the cost of building custom code and using technologies that aren’t accessible to the everyday person or small organization. “And that’s really compelling,” he continued, making clear that the configuration and solution the CIC and Fellowship Square Mesa have devised are available from the CIC’s website.

It’s also important to note that this idea is optional. Any component of the solution is customizable; for example, residents can opt out of the alert functionality. 

As mentioned, the smart fall prevention component is also one part of Fellowship Square Mesa’s overall smart apartment. Smart microwaves, TVs, sinks and bathrooms were also on display and will provide ways to improve quality of life for the facility’s residents. The full smart apartment experience is not yet available, but the recent tour revealed exciting possibilities.

The possibilities for senior fall prevention don’t stop with Fellowship Square Mesa, either. This solution is open source for anyone, and a two-page Solution Guide can get individuals, families and organizations involved in mitigating the risks of senior falls.

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