Walking is a skill most of us learn by 15 months of age. In fact, this skill is interwoven into our daily existence so intrinsically that we give it little to no thought, therefore the implications of even subtle changes are often lost on us – particularly older adults. Health experts are coming to recognize gait as a 6th vital sign - another indicator in change of health, or risk of falls and injury. With over a quarter of our older adult population suffering from a fall every year, can we improve safe aging outcomes through a scientific approach?
Asking the Right Questions
Dr. Victor Hirth has 30 years of experience in geriatric medicine. He is the founding owner of Geriatric Health and Wellness, a concierge physician practice in Still Hopes’ Greenway Healthcare building and is currently serving as Still Hopes’ medical director. Throughout his tenure he has witnessed firsthand the implications of a fall for an older adult. While the primary focus in the US healthcare system is on rehabilitation and return to a prior level of function, often this goal is unachievable due to individual circumstances. So, the question became; if we cannot guarantee a return to level of function post-fall, how can we mitigate the fall’s impact, or better yet, anticipate and prevent falls before they occur?
Two Grants, Three Studies
Dr. Hirth became a co-owner of a pair of studies utilizing floor vibrations to detect falls and to determine fall risk through gait speed measurements with Benjamin Davis of ASSET LLC. He concurrently advised University of South Carolina’s Dr. Juan Caicedo on his research of gait parameters' relation to health through sensors placed in an individual’s home. All three studies are ongoing and funded from two grant initiatives of the National Institute on Aging. The NIA, one of the 27 institutes and centers within the National Institutes of Health, is responsible for promoting a broad scientific effort to understand aging and the extension of healthy and active years of life. The receipt of these grants signifies the national, if not global importance of the research initiatives impact on safe aging. While each study has overlapping implications, they are unique in their overall methodology and research goals.
A perfect Setting for the Task
Dr. Hirth’s partnership or advisership with the three studies coupled with his long-standing relationship with Still Hopes made this campus the ideal setting for the research. Still Hopes has a history of partnering with local educational entities, has access to various settings associated with varied levels of health and independence, and boasts a population of eager participants who understand the importance of the work being done.
Since each of the studies’ inception, the findings have allowed the research to evolve to answer new questions that arose during the preliminary stages. Vibrations can detect falls. Great! How can we improve its efficiency? Can they work in various settings? Vibrations can measure gait speed. Wonderful! Can we use that speed to assess fall risk? Can the sensors accurately measure speed even with the presence of a walking device? Can we detect changes in gait that may be indicative of a change in health?
Still Hopes is proud to be the site of innovation and discovery. The implications for the population we serve are great, and we look forward to the technological advances that may come and lead to a safer, healthier life of older adults everywhere.
For more information on the studies please reach out to Victor Hirth at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the National Institute on Aging to learn more about their grant initiatives and research programs.