College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Watching Their Steps: Physicist’s Project

UM scientist’s patented technology measures changes in walk of elderly, which may help prevent falls

JULY 28, 2015 | By EDWIN SMITH

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

James Sabatier (left) | Photo by Robert Jordan/UM Communications

A University of Mississippi-patented sonar technology, which can be used to measure and score the movements of the elderly, may soon become a “game changer” for those concerned about aging parents or patients.

The Collie Home Health Walk Signature SystemTM is a smart sensor created by UM research scientist James Sabatier, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy, who began developing sonar technologies in the 1980s. Still in the pre-prototype phase, the small, wireless device can be attached to the wall of any room in a building. Once in place, Collie regularly measures and assesses walking speed, leg and torso motion and other parameters related to balance and gait. This data is used to calculate a person’s “fall-risk” score.

“Collie is the first product of its kind to bring the precision of expensive equipment used in research hospitals to the home in a single, affordable, noninvasive smart sensor,” said John Rogers, Collie Home Health’s chief operating officer. “This is important for seniors, as the National Council on Aging identified lack of preventive treatment and changes in lifestyle as the major factors contributing to falls.”

Collie’s fall-risk scores are indicators of stability, with higher scores indicating better stability and a lower risk of falling. If a person’s score dropped over a period of time, it might signal a problem, said Sabatier, Collie Home Health founder, chief executive officer and inventor.

“A fall-risk score is a standardized measurement, like blood pressure,” he said. “It gives a snapshot of a person’s stability. Over longer periods, trends in the score provide insight into changes in a person’s health.”

By responding to these changes with prescribed interventions, such as physical therapy, a cane or walker, patients may improve their walking ability or at least lessen the probability of having a debilitating or deadly fall.

For example, if someone’s parent or grandparent had a fall-risk score of 68, and over time it decreased to 42, clearly preventive intervention would be needed.

“But why wait until it’s 42?” Rogers said. “By measuring fall-risk every day, you see her score drop below 60. And even though you may not see a change in her stability with your naked eye, you know it is time to schedule that doctor’s appointment. Then, through physical therapy or the addition of a walking aid, her score jumps back up to 72 over the next few weeks.”

Sabatier is collaborating with other UM scientists and staff in perfecting Collie. John Garner, interim chair and associate professor of health, exercise science and recreation management, compares Sabatier’s research with similar data yielded by experiments in UM’s Applied Biomechanics Laboratory. The equipment includes eight cameras used to capture all body motions of test subjects in three dimensions.

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“Ours is the ‘gold standard’ in motion capture,” Garner said. “So far, the Collie system replicates our standards on a much smaller scale and shows great promise for the health care industry. We’re just glad to provide our ‘toys’ to assist his efforts.”

Jeremy Webster, an engineer at the university’s National Center for Physical Acoustics and a consultant on the software aspects of the project, voiced similar positive findings.

“At this point, we can very accurately measure the strides of people,” he said. “The next requirement on the road to making Collie available to the public will be a better understanding of when these changes begin to take place. Once we have that, we can test the prototype in a small number of homes for several months. By that point, we should have a unit for consumers to purchase.”

Two students, Demba Komma of The Gambia and Forrest Gamble of Birmingham, Alabama, work with Sabatier on Collie testing.

Sabatier was the first tenant of the Innovation Hub at Insight Park, a 62,000-square-foot high-tech center that provides support and infrastructure to startup companies in the knowledge business, including biomedical and pharmaceutical industries. The company is an outgrowth of his life’s work as an acoustical physicist at NCPA. With the Innovation Hub as his base, he was able to take advantage of in-house resources to develop his research into a viable business.

“It was bred into me as a graduate student that this was what I was supposed to do, but I struggled to know how to do it,” Sabatier said. “I’m a university faculty member by career, trying to become a businessman. The Innovation Hub provides all of the pieces I need.”

“Falls are traumatic and when a loved one falls, she desires the best emergency care possible,” he said. “But the best treatment is to avoid the fall by taking preventive action.”

For more information, email info@colliehomehealth.com with “Collie Launch” in the email subject line or register for the mailing list at http://colliehomehealth.com.