Sheffield Researchers

Professor Mark Hawley

Professor Luc de Witte

Dr Phil Joddrell

Dr Stephen Potter

Partners

GSPK Design Ltd

Johnnie Johnson Housing

Development and validation of a sensor for monitoring walking speed in the home.

Older people tend to ‘slow down’ as their health gets worse. Research suggests that the speed an older person walks is a good indicator of their general state of health.

Keeping track of whether an older person is slowing down could tell us whether their health is getting worse, perhaps before it becomes obvious in other ways. This would mean that health services could provide help earlier, or could alert the family, or the person themselves, that they need to take steps to deal with this worsening health before a serious event occurs. Although walking speed is relatively easy to measure in the clinic with a stop-watch and tape-measure, it doesn’t get measured very often and this valuable information about a person’s health is not, therefore, collected regularly enough.

Our research team, in collaboration with GSPK Design Ltd. has developed a sensor that can measure walking speed each time a person walks past it in their own home. The sensor is small and low cost and doesn’t need the person to do anything other than go about their daily life.

The accuracy of the sensor has been tested against a gold standard VICON system in a human movement lab, and was shown to be sufficiently accurate to measure changes in walking speed that are likely to be clinically important.

We have tested the sensor with 18 older people living with frailty in sheltered housing, working with Johnnie Johnson Housing. The results show that the sensor can measure walking speed many times a day if positioned correctly within the home. We were able to detect that people with greater levels of frailty walk more slowly, as has been shown in clinical studies. Importantly, the people we worked with found the sensor, and the idea of measuring walking speed, acceptable.

Our next steps will be to confirm whether deterioration in walking speed, as measured by the sensor, is indicative of deterioration in health and increase in level of frailty.