Students Are Tackling the Problem of Elderly Falls
When elderly people fall, their default reaction is often to call an ambulance for help. Two Northeastern University undergraduates believe it doesn’t have to be that way.
“If elderly people don’t know that they are able to get up on their own, they just assume, ‘I’ve fallen, I have to call 9-1-1, I have to pay for an emergency room visit.’ It’s a whole ordeal,” explains Ellie Schachter, a third-year industrial engineering major at Northeastern. “What we’re trying to do is promote independence of people in this age range and ability level.”
To do that, Schachter and a fourth-year electrical engineering major named Laurel McCallister designed the Get Up Seat (G.U.S.), a device that attaches to an elderly person’s walker to help users get up from falls—and prevent them in the first place.
G.U.S. was born through a Northeastern class called “Enabling Engineering,” during which students conceive and design products that could help populations in need. As part of the class, Schachter and McCallister partnered with a group called Little Brothers—Friends of the Elderly and learned that recovering from and avoiding falls is a major pain point in the elderly community. The idea for G.U.S. came soon after.
Essentially, G.U.S. is a detachable bleacher-like seat with two main uses: First, it can provide a resting place for someone who feels weak and fears a fall. Or, if somebody has already fallen, he or she can use G.U.S. to get up by activating its breaks, which are attached to the walker’s legs, and using the seat as a solid object to brace against when standing up.
“When we were researching the physical therapy methods of getting up from a fall, they all recommend a very similar procedure. Once you get to your knees, the next step is to put your hands on something solid and pull yourself up,” Schachter says. “Basically everybody knows how to do this given certain pieces of equipment. We didn’t want to change that basic knowledge or procedure.”
Inventions like G.U.S.—which is set to enter the prototyping stage next month and is projected to cost only $84 to make—are exactly what was intended to come from Enabling Engineering, which began this year as a way to expand a Northeastern club of the same name. Schachter is an officer of the club, and says its goal is providing individualized health devices to people with either physical or cognitive challenges.
“[Enabling Engineering is about working with] one person, this one child or this one adult, that has a very specific need that the general market doesn’t want to address because it doesn’t give them a profit,” Schachter says. “Enabling Engineering works with individuals and gives them the solutions they need. That’s really what the club is aiming at, making one-on-one connections and helping individuals.”