An electronic walking frame which acts as a ‘virtual physiotherapist’ by encouraging users to be active, assessing and adjusting their exercise, and monitoring progress is being developed by an international group of academics.
It has technology to issue voice commands, persuading users to complete regular activities like going for a walk, gripping, standing and balancing, said a spokesperson for Northumbria University, the only UK institution involved in the project.
In addition, the frame gathers detailed data about walking patterns or gait, which can be fed back to healthcare professionals. This could allow them to assess if the patient is at risk of falls.
The development is part of the EU-funded ACANTO programme to explore how technology can address the challenges of ageing and encourage older adults to be more active.
Italy’s University of Trento is leading the walking frame project. In addition to Northumbria University, the other partners are universities, research centres, hospitals and industries in Spain, Greece, France and Austria.
Lynne Coventry, director of Northumbria University’s psychology and communication technology laboratory, where the UK trials are taking place, said: ‘The frame will help physiotherapists to understand the physical motion of older adults as they’re walking and establish if they have any problems.
‘It can also help physiotherapists to administer tests and to set exercises for patients to do on daily basis to keep them on their feet.’
The walker has been tested with physiotherapists at the University Hospital Getafe, Spain. It is currently undergoing trials with volunteers aged 65 or older, in labs and along corridors at Northumbria University, with the aim of replicating a hospital environment.
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