'Magic carpet' could prevent nursing home falls, researchers suggest

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The placement of plastic optical fibers under a carpet or flooring has the potential to greatly reduce falls among nursing home residents, an interdisciplinary team of researchers said at a scientific conference this week.

Dubbed “the magic carpet,” researchers at England's University of Manchester used a tomographic technique to develop fiber optic sensors that can be inexpensively placed on flooring. The pliant sensors can identify walking patterns, deterioration in walking habits and other physiological predictors of a fall, according to the team. The sensors also could alert caregivers in the immediate aftermath of a fall.

“Being able to identify changes in people's walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a corridor in a nursing home, could really help us identity problems earlier on,” co-investigator, Chris Todd, Ph.D., said.

The research was presented Tuesday at the Photon 12 Conference in Durham, England.