Every year, one out of every three adults over the age of 65 falls, causing five times as many hospital stays as any other accidents and costing Medicare beneficiaries anywhere from $14,000 to $20,000. Worse yet, one in five of the people who fracture their hips die within a year of the initial accident. To reduce the pain and suffering caused by hip fractures, engineers at ActiveProtective, Lehigh Valley, Pa. (www.activeprotect.co), developed a wearable air bag that inflates to protect the wearer from injuries. They, in turn, teamed with engineers from Boston Device Development, Newton, Mass. (www.bostondevice.com), a contract product-development firm, to help develop the air bag.
The air bag comes packaged in a slightly oversized unisex belt, which is studded with small sensors. When the sensors and onboard electronics detect accelerations and movements they determine to be indicators of an imminent fall, they activate the inflation sequence. The inflator does not use explosives like automotive versions do. The inflator does, however, inflate the bag fast enough that it is in place and protecting the wearer’s hips before they hit the ground.
Recent tests of the belt conducted at the Veterans Administration Gait and Motion Analysis Lab found that they reduce the force of impact from a standing fall by 90% — enough to significantly lower the risk of fracturing a hip. The company plans on putting it on the market next year.