04/09/2012 12:04 BST | Updated 04/09/2012 14:59 BST

‘Magic Carpet' Could Help Prevent Falls Among Elderly, Say University Of Manchester Scientists

It’s not quite up to the spec that Aladdin would expect, but scientists have nevertheless invented a kind of “magic carpet”.

It’s designed to prevent falls in the elderly – not by hovering, sadly – but through plastic optical fibres that map walking patterns, with a change indicating to carers that a fall could be imminent.

Researchers from the University of Manchester say that the fibres, fitted to the underlay of a carpet, bend when they’re trodden on and relay signals to a computer.

manchester magic carpet

Walk this way: Sensors in the carpet map footfall patterns

These signals can then be analysed to show the image of the footprint and identify gradual changes in walking behaviour or a sudden incident such as a fall or trip.

As many as 30 to 40% of community dwelling older people fall each year.

This is the most serious and frequent accident in the home and accounts for 50% of hospital admissions in the over-65 age group.

The scientists believe the technology could be used to fit smart carpets in care homes or hospital wards, as well as being fitted in people's homes if necessary.

Physiotherapists could also use the carpet to map changes and improvements in a person's gait.

The imaging technology is so versatile it could even be developed to detect the presence of chemical spillages or fire as an early-warning system.

The researchers, led by Dr Patricia Scully from The University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute, believe the magic carpet could be vital not only for helping people in the immediate aftermath of a fall, but also in identifying subtle changes in people's walking habits which might not be spotted by a family member or carer.

Dr Scully said: "The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person's condition, from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition.

"The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living space to adapt as the occupiers' needs evolve – particularly relevant with an aging population and for those with long term disabilities – and incorporated non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress or wall that a patient interacts with."

Dr Christine Brown Wilson from the School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Work said: "This project demonstrates how engineers, scientists and healthcare professionals, can work together to develop new and innovative health care technologies that make a real difference in practice."