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Sock that sounds the alarm before older people fall

Older people will be alerted to the increased risk of falls thanks to a new smart sock created by electronic textiles (e-textiles) experts at Nottingham Trent University.

Zahra Rahemtulla
PhD candidate Zahra Rahemtulla with the prototype over sock

Older people will be alerted to the increased risk of falls thanks to a new smart sock created by electronic textiles (e-textiles) experts at Nottingham Trent University.

Researchers created a prototype over-sock which detects near-falls with more than 94 per cent accuracy which can inform carers and professionals so that action can be taken to prevent an actual fall happening.

Near-falls – which include slips, trips or stumbles - are an independent predictor of substantial falls and research shows that they may help clinicians assess the fall risk in older adults.

“Falls can be devastating to the quality of life of older people,” said Dr Theodore Hughes-Riley, of the Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG) at Nottingham School of Art & Design, who is an associate professor in electronic textiles.

“And with a rise in the ageing population, falls will only continue to have a significant impact on older people, causing loss of confidence and increased frailty.

“Only an estimated third of older people return to independent living following a hip fracture, for instance, which is a common injury to occur after a fall.

“So being able to detect near-falls will allow older people and their carers to take action before a potentially life-changing fall happens.”

Motion sensor embedded in yarn
The motion sensor embedded in yarn

The over-sock – which features a tiny motion sensor embedded at the ankle – can be connected to an internet enabled device, like a phone, via a detachable microcontroller using Bluetooth. The electronic circuitry it contains is so tiny that it cannot be felt by the wearer, and the motion sensor is encapsulated in a resin so it is fully washable like an ordinary item of clothing.

An algorithm can process the data and spot any unusual motion and differentiates between a fall or a near-fall. The aspiration is that once the over-sock detects an actual fall, then the technology alerts emergency care workers so that life-saving action can be taken if necessary.

Human trials show that the technology can detect falls with 99.4 per cent accuracy, and near-falls with 94.2 per cent accuracy. The research has been published by Electronic Textile Materials academic journal.

The research results are the cumulation of Researcher Zahra Rahemtulla’s PhD studies, who said: “As well as detecting near-falls, it is important that the technology can raise the alarm when somebody has had an actual fall and badly injured themselves.

“When an older person experiences a fall, they can be left unconscious or immobile on the floor for a long period of time and unable to call for help.

“So by alerting carers and medical professionals to falls in real time, older people will be able to receive the treatment that they may badly need, which could help save lives.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Chris Birkle, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 2310, or via email.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked second best university in the UK in the Uni Compare Top 100 rankings (2021/2022). It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with nearly 39,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked 2nd most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 20 March 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment