When an older person has a fall, time is of the essence. This is especially true at night, when darkness and disorientation are added complications. Although many people own personal alarms, they are often not at hand when most needed. Close Call is a night shirt that brings the alarm with the user wherever they go. When the accelerometer detects a fall, a pre-programmed SMS is sent to a preferred contact. A manual help button is also included as a contingency. Should the user not require help, they also have the option of an update button to inform their contact that they are alright. The electronics pack is removed when the shirt is washed, but the red panel will be revealed to remind the user to replace the electronics and affix the panel.
Following participation observation and semi-structured interviews with three participants, explanations for not carrying the alarm at all times included wanting to leave it on the charger so that it would not run out of battery, fear of it going off accidentally, sleeping and showering. In all cases, the devices were not purchased personally but by a relative. It seemed that rather than enabling independence, as they are marketed, to the user it represents a loss of independence. In one instance, the participant had formerly carried the alarm diligently, but following an incident in which it was dropped and the audio alarm only was activated (the participant did not understand this does not activate any calls) they now leave it on the kitchen table. It is clear that these devices can be confusing and overwhelming. This would be further exacerbated if someone was suffering from any mental health or cognition complications such as memory loss. Not only would making the whole process automatic remove any risk of misunderstanding the operation at a crucial time, it would also negate the user having to carry around a physical symbol of their lost independence. The alarm must be as invisible as possible and totally integrated into everyday life.
Given that users hardly ever carry the alarm at night, a particularly high risk time for falls, and older people often visit the bathroom during the night (twice a night, in the case of two participants), a solution must be found that can call for help following a call, without the user having to actively bring something to the bathroom every time. For this reason, some manner of accelerometer enabled wearable is a logical choice.
Walk a Mile Immersion
Walk a Mile Immersions can be a quick way to create empathy with the user and obtain insights not uncovered by other methods. Apparatus were used to simulate the reduced mobility and sensitivity that comes with ageing. This includes glasses with sticky tape (to inhibit vision), gum boots on the wrong feet (to simulate loss of proprioception), strapping tape on the torso (to simulate changes in posture) and spinning around several times in a chair (to create dizziness). The 'Community Balance and Mobility Scale' was used first as control, then and again using the apparatus. Out of a possible 96 points, the control received 95 and the simulation received 35. The greater understanding found through this methodology better explained the notions that older people find it hard to perform tasks when given too much stimulation. I had to intently concentrate all of my attention on the task in order to compensate for the impediments. I also had to perform them much slower than in the control. This indicates that the solution should not require the user to operate any products while in motion, especially at night when vision and balance are likely to be weaker.
The prototype consists of a presentation model of the garment with a prototype electronics pack. Programmed using Arduino, the hardware consists of a micro-controller, GPRS shield with SIM card, accelerometer and battery. Multiple falls were simulated to obtain the correct velocity range of an adult falling to the ground. When this velocity is recorded, the GPRS shield sends an SMS to the programmed phone number.