Preventing falls among elderly people is among the aims of a new research project involving sensor technology.

The three-year long €3m Kiduku study is a collaboration between three Irish research groups and Fujitsu.

Under the project, 20 pilot participants will wear small sensors that monitor biological, physical and social aspects of their environment.

Sensors are also being placed in the homes of the participants to track their movement, sleeping patterns and other metrics.

By monitoring the patients remotely in this way, the researchers hope to be able to detect when they face a heightened physiological risk of experiencing falls.

In such circumstances, medical experts would intervene and prescribe appropriate treatments and fall prevention programmes, thereby reducing the risk to the patients and the cost of resulting treatment.

Risk of falling increases with age

One in every three people over 65 falls each year, and the risk increases with age.

A quarter of those over 65 who do fall, end up requiring hospitalisation, while falls can also lead to a loss of independence.

The cause of falls are diverse and include stability, mobility, vision and blood pressure problems.

Studies of the risks of falling have until now been carried out in a clinical setting.

This project will see patients monitored in the home, over a longer period than normal, to see what risks they face there.

Data will be collected using Shimmer sensors, which are small wireless sensors worn on the body.

Kinect cameras, such as the type used with the Xbox 360 gaming console, as well as passive infrared cameras, will also be used.

The study will begin with an analysis of fall risks, but will move on in subsequent years to examine and gain a better understanding of other risk factors for the elderly, such as chronic lung disease.

The project is being majority funded by Fujitsu, which is believed to be investing €3m into the venture.

The Centre for Affective Solutions for Ambient Living Awareness (CASALA), based at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, is leading the research, using its connections to the Great Northern Haven development, which consists of 16 apartments in Dundalk containing special sensor and assisted living technology to help the residents.

The other two research groups involved are the independent living technology research body, TRIL, and CLARITY, the Science Foundation Ireland funded centre for sensor web technologies.