A new device has been approved in the UK and Europe that could reduce the impact of falls by up to 90 per cent. The high-tech HipHope belt is fitted with sensors that constantly monitor the movement of the wearer. When a sudden fall towards the ground is detected, two airbags inflate to protect the hip joints.
The airbags are activated in less than a second, acting as a cushioning barrier between the bones of the hip and the ground. So far, tests that have been carried out in a laboratory setting have shown that the impact on hips has been reduced by as much as 90 per cent, as a result of wearing the belt.
Having been approved as a medical device, the HipHope belt is expected to be available from later in 2017. It would cost users around £1,000 to purchase outright or £40 a month to rent, but could give peace of mind to the relatives of elderly people concerned that they could fall.
The numbers of people suffering hip fractures in England, Wales and Northern Ireland stands at 65,000 each year. The majority of these cases are in elderly people, where osteoporosis is a factor. Hip fractures leave the NHS with a bill of £1 billion annually.
While the pain, discomfort and healing time associated with hip fractures are all unpleasant, there are wider implications too. Many people who experience falls in old age begin to lose their independence as a result and rely on family members and other services to complete everyday tasks.
The idea to pad the body to help protect against falls is not a new one, with padded underwear and shorts already available. A 2014 study by the Cochrane Library into such measures found that these items only reduced fractures by 13 per cent.
Using the airbag principle that has proven so effective in cars is seen as a better solution and has the added benefit of only being activated when needed. The HipHope resembles a money belt, with a clip at the front and weighs around the same as a bag of sugar. Two pouches on the sides contain the airbags.
The most interesting part of the device, however, is an accelerometer, which is sewn into the fabric and carries out the important task of monitoring movement. It tracks both speed and direction in a similar manner to exercise trackers that have become popular recently. Couple with laser light sensors that show how far the pelvis is from the ground, the HipHope has all bases covered.
Takir Khan, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, has said that he’s interested in the idea. He did, however, highlight that it might not prevent all types of fractures, as the series of events can differ, but agreed it may minimise injury.
He told the Daily Mail: “If they have a weak thigh bone they may suffer a fracture while walking and that's why they fall. The airbags might prevent further damage - but not the initial fracture.”