Posted: February 3, 2017

An innovative and inexpensive tool kit to better assess balance and improve quality of life for older adults, as well as people who have suffered strokes, injuries, and other disorders has been awarded $50,000 to further testing and improvement.

The collaborative project between researchers at the University of Waterloo and physicians at Grand River Hospital (GRH) stems from a partnership launched between Waterloo and GRH two years ago. The Tool Kit for Assessing Human Balance and Mobility will be tested at the hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation clinic at GRH’s Freeport Campus. Freeport specializes in rehabilitation, including supporting the needs of older adults and stroke patients, as well as individuals recovering from accidents.

Dr Doug Dittmer
GRH's Dr. Doug Dittmer will be supporting a research project at GRH's Freeport Campus testing human balance and mobility.

The tool kit was one of 31 projects to receive funding totaling $1.4 million from the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, in collaboration with Baycrest Health Sciences through its Spark program. The program provides funding to point-of-care workers in the North American health care delivery or service industry to further develop their grassroots ideas into proof-of-concept or prototypes that have the potential to improve brain health or quality of life for older adults.

The announcement was made in Toronto today by the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, and the Honourable Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science.

The current version of the tool kit was developed by Bill McIlroy, professor and chair of kinesiology, Don Cowan, distinguished professor emeritus, Cheriton School of Computer Science, and funded by a grant from the Canadian Frailty Network, a Network Centre of Excellence. 

Doug Dittmer, a physical medicine specialist and medical director of physical medicine at Grand River Hospital, will work with McIlroy and Cowan on the testing regimen. Professors McIlroy and Cowan are members of the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology (CBB) at Waterloo.

Using a tablet and wearable technologies, the tool kit will allow health care professionals to capture big data from each session with a patient for analysis. The system samples and synchronizes data from multiple inexpensive wearable devices and generates a patient assessment and possible actions to improve the health of the patient. The system will also produce a large data set of clinical results (big data) that can be analyzed for further insights into frailty and other medical conditions related to balance.

The goal is to make the essential tool kit useable for health care professionals, including family physicians and physiotherapists. Its low cost and simplicity means a patient’s balance could be assessed close to home, even in rural and remote community health care.

Assessing balance more accurately will lead to a better understanding of conditions that may lead to falls. Poor balance and mobility is a significant challenge for many people, including older adults and people who have suffered strokes, injuries, and other disorders. Loss of balance is also associated with other health risks like falls, decreased activity, and the capacity to recover from illness and injury.