Unlocking Your Balance: How Smart Devices Can Help Assess and Improve Your Gait
In this era of smart technology, our gadgets are not just for convenience but are becoming indispensable tools for our health. There is an increasing interest in using sensor systems embedded in smartwatches/smartphones for health care purposes. The Apple Health app can now assess your gait and balance and let you know if your gait has changed.
Gait (walking) performance is an important marker of functional ability, independent living, and survival. Studies show that a smartphone can be used as an assessment tool to quantify ambulatory tasks while navigating both unobstructed and obstructed surfaces. Smartphone-based assessment using the Apple Health app, regardless of phone placement, is shown to be reliable and valid for all gait parameters across obstructed and unobstructed conditions, both indoors and outdoors.
How Does the Apple Health App Assess Your Balance?
When you carry your iPhone in a pocket or holster near your waist, the Apple Health app uses custom algorithms that assess your balance, strength, and gait. You can receive a notification if your walking steadiness becomes low or stays low, and you can automatically share the notification with friends or family. According to Apple, walking steadiness is calculated using factors like walking speed, step length, double support time, and walking asymmetry data that is stored in the Health app. This provides a sense of the way you walk and is also related to your fall risk. As steadiness goes down, your risk of falling goes up. Walking steadiness is not an indication of how likely you are to fall in any given moment but an overall sense of fall risk in the next 12 months.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), falls in older adults are an indicator of “frailty, immobility, and acute and chronic health impairment." They can lead to serious health complications and injuries such as fractures and head injuries. However, even if you or a loved one are at risk for falls, a physical therapist can assess your balance and strength and provide interventions to significantly reduce risk of falls.
How Can I Assess My Fall Risk?
To assess your fall risk yourself using your Apple Health app:
- Open the Health app on iOS. It looks like a small red heart in a white square.
- Then tap "Show All Health Data" and scroll down.
Android also has a version of this feature.
While your device might spot the poor stability in your stride, this is just the first step. Don't wait until an accident happens – take action now! Request an appointment with our expert physical therapists to have your balance and fall risk assessed. Your journey to improved stability begins with a single step.
Written by Carrie Lynch, PT, DPT