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An algorithm that accurately measures gait through smart watches may help in falls risk and prevention in older persons, latest research shows.

The Watch Walk algorithm, written by researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and University NSW Sydney, measures walking steadiness and speed. By pairing with a wearable tech device such as a smart watch, the algorithm can provide real-time feedback on how to improve individual walking stability to reduce falls.

UNSW Medicine & Health and NeuRA research and co-lead author of the study, Lloyd Chan said it was the first time an algorithm for measuring gait had been widely tested in real-world environments.

“We know that the way people walk is a predictor of their health. For example, people who walk more slowly, infrequently, in smaller steps or for shorter distances are typically more likely to suffer a fall.

“Our goal was to capture this data through looking at how individuals naturally walk in their daily lives, and then test this broadly on over 70,000 individuals.”

Results of a two-stage study, published in Scientific Reports, involved assessing specific movements in people’s homes and the lab setting. The data generated was used to create a digital gait biomarker algorithm which was then tested on 78,822 study participants.

Digital gait biomarkers such as posture, walking speed and length of stride assess a person’s overall health, functional decline and can often predict their likelihood to fall. Conventional digital gait biomarker measurements are typically geared towards walking on treadmills and set lengths which do not accurately assess gait from walking in real-time.

The Watch Walk algorithm measures gait with a smart watch’s in-build accelerometer, the same technology that makes the screen turn on when a smart phone or watch is moved.

“Individuals can gain reliable feedback on their gait and track their improvement over time. In future, we hope to be able to analyse how people walk and predict their risk of disease or mortality,” Mr Chan said.

The increase in wearable device technology provides an accessible and approachable method of falls prevention in older people, the researchers concluded.

A Watch Walk app is currently in development and due for release in late 2023.