Reliable mobility devices for the elderly
This project is very close to my heart as it tries to help the elderly people to remain safe and healthy. The project initially was called Walk’Em, but has since switched to a more simple name. It began in January 2017 and is still ongoing.
Problem: As people grow older, their bodies become frail. There are more than 32 million Americans aged 65 and above. The US Center for Disease Control had estimated that over 29 million elderlies had fallen in as recent as 2014, and nearly 7 million of these resulted in injuries.
Motivation: Observing the elderly around us everyday
Solution: The All-terrain Cane and safe shopping cart
Mission: Preventing falls among the elderly people and eliminating the stigma attached with the usage of assistive devices, hence promoting safer mobility habits among them.
Impact: The project was a quarter finalist in the NYU Innovention challenge. It also received a prototyping fund of $500. The research was shown in the NYU Tandon Research Expo. It was also shown during the New York Disability Day Parade.
Tools: Solidworks, Rhinoceros, Rapid prototyping, CNC, UX design
To assess the issues faced by the users, every team member participated in an empathy exercise, where an assistive device was used for a day, and found out the difficulties in using them. The devices chosen were among the elderly people: cane, stationary walker, rollator, rolling walker, and hemi-walker.
Among these, the cane was determined to be the most unstable to use.
After the exercise, it was important to know how seniors felt about falling. Two things really helped with this research: visiting the Silver Crest Center for rehabilitation to get insights on fall recovery, and speaking with 10 experts in New York, including, physical therapists, registered nurses, caregivers, a clinical social worker, and a physician. This is how the team learned that many elderlies begin self-prescribing devices like canes and shopping carts, even when not recommended. We also learned that most falls happen at home.
What is the best way to empathize with the elderly people? Speak with them and listen to them. The elderly love to tell their stories. The team interacted with more than 400 seniors at Weinberg Center for Balanced Living, through volunteering and lunch services. The team also had in-depth and one-on-one conversation with 30 seniors and listening to their stories. Many seniors use more than one of the same devices for different environments. However, a respectable number did not prefer using mobility devices. There were three kinds of consensus behind the using of assistive devices:
There were seniors who used shopping carts to balance themselves while walking. There was a relationship between the users and the device, as if they trusted it like a friend. “I don’t remember where I bought it, but this shopping cart has been with me for 40 years”, said Helaine, an elderly lady at the Senior center, showing her colorful shopping cart, “And it’s still good”. Another senior lady, who volunteered at the Senior center, Margaret said, “I can walk all the way from here [New York] to Chicago if I have my shopping cart with me.”
Many seniors did not like to use mobility devices because they think that it makes them look weak and older. They prefer to exercise and remain fit to avoid using such devices. They also find it difficult to ask help from others, even their loved ones. They thought that using one such device would mean that they will lose their independence.
There are others who do not like to use the devices available because of their physical appearance and poor ergonomics in their design. However, they are willing to use a device if a doctor or a physical therapist prescribes them. When a group of elderly ladies, who currently did not use any device, were asked if they would be willing to use them, one of them said, “When you reach a certain age and you need certain things to make your life better, there is no shame in using them it’s for your own good”, and the others agreed with her.
Based on these research insights, the team came up with many ideas. However, a decision was made to focus on two of them, as both were promising, and would have an impact on preventing falls:
By volunteering 4 times, the team had developed a good relationship with the Weinberg center. Because of this, the prototypes were tested there. The elderly have also provided valuable feedback, which was used to improve the devices.
The most important feature would be preserving individuality through personalization. This is done through using a wide range of colors for the devices and vinyl stickers.
Both these devices have advantages over the existing ones. The potential of these two devices could disrupt the market, as these are the things that the elderly people want and need. The baby boomer generation are not getting any younger.
More recently, on July 9th 2017, the team along with the Ability Project participated in the disability day parade in New York to showcase the designs.
The safe shopping cart could become an alternative to the walkers of now-a-days. Because it is a walker in the disguise of a shopping cart. Usually shopping carts are frowned upon when taken inside busses because of their bulky nature. However, shopping carts modified into walkers will be readily allowed by the bus drivers.
The all-terrain cane has interchangeable tips, which is an answer to the problem of using multiple devices of the same kind. It also brings back natural functionality to the movement, due to a ball and socket attachment at the bottom. By using a special plastic material, its handle is easily molded into desired shape, and in this case, the shape made by the palm when grasping onto something.