The SAF-T VEST: now patented fall protection
After years of waiting, a Minnesota orthopedic surgeon’s idea to reduce injuries from falls earns U.S. patent protection
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The SAF-T VEST™
An estimated three million people in the U.S. are rushed to hospitals each year due to fall injuries.1 Tens of thousands of these injuries result in life-changing consequences ranging from hip fractures to head injuries to death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 300,000 older people in the U.S. are hospitalized for hip fractures each year; more than 95% of these injuries are caused by falling.2
In short, fall injuries are a public health crisis.
Jay Davenport, M.D, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, has designed a patented, wearable tech solution. His start-up, Davenport SAF-T Systems, LLC, is evaluating the safety, performance and commercial viability of a “smart” vest that will reduce the risk of injury from falls.
How it works
Most strategies to reduce fall injuries focus on prevention. Dr. Davenport took a different approach.
Rather than preventing the fall, the SAF-T VEST detects and responds to it. This comfortable, lightweight garment monitors the user’s center of balance with a system of tiny sensors. When the sensors detect an unrecoverable fall in progress, it deploys a system of airbags to reduce the risk and severity of injury. The bags then rapidly deflate to prevent a bounce-back effect, known as contrecoup, which can cause concussion. The rapid deflation gently lowers the user to the floor, like a deflating air mattress.
The airbag system, including the inflation mechanism, is integrated in the vest, along with the sensors and microprocessor. The vest will be designed to meet consumer requirements on price, comfort and appearance.
The SAF-T VEST is designed to help older adults maintain their independence—so critical to quality of life—by reducing injuries, healthcare costs and mortality rates from falls. While it may be impossible to ever completely prevent falls from occurring, the technology to reduce the severity of injury from falls is now within reach.
Growing old at home
“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz. It turns out America’s senior citizens agree with her.
According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), more than 90% of people aged 65 and over want to stay in their current homes for as long as possible. If aging in place is the goal, what can we do to remain independent for as long as possible? Experts say put on your walking shoes and get moving.
However, a serious fall injury can change a person’s quality of life in an instant. Patients often face expensive medical care, long-term rehabilitation and a permanent loss of independence. Many begin a path of physical decline.
Fall injuries are the most common and most costly type of non-fatal injury in seniors. They are also the number one cause of fatal injury.
The SAF-T VEST is a novel application of existing technology. It is validated by the recent emergence of upper body, wearable airbag systems in use today for high-speed activities including motorcycling and skiing.
This “smart” vest represents a significant advance over the few fall protection systems in existence today. It advances the current state of research on fall injury prevention, reduce healthcare costs and help seniors maintain independence.
According to AARP, more than 10,000 seniors turn 65 every day, a rate expected to continue into the 2030s. There are more than 53 million seniors in the U.S. Our target market includes clinicians, hospitals, long term care facilities and seniors. Adult children of seniors represent an important secondary market.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web–based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. Accessed August 5, 2016.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Important Facts about Falls.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.
The science behind fall detection
The SAF-T VEST is calibrated to recognize the user’s movements and identify an unrecoverable fall. Previous fall detection research and development confirms the potential for highly sensitive and accurate fall detection sensor systems. In our system, an integrated gyroscope and accelerometer monitor center of balance, linear and angular velocities and accelerations. When a fall is detected, a microprocessor triggers a network of airbags to inflate, absorbing the impact of the fall while protecting the hips, pelvis, upper extremities and head. Inflation is triggered via chemical propellent reaction, similar to inflation mechanisms in automobile airbags. Contrecoup-related brain injuries are mitigated through airbag inflation and immobilization around the collar line and back of the head at the moment of impact—followed by rapid deflation.
Our device also responds to a person’s natural startle reflex. Simply put, when we lose our balance, we reach out to break our fall. Our device prevents this involuntary response by restricting arm extension across shoulder joints and down the upper arms, helping to keep elbows tucked to the side. An inflated, “donut” shape extends forward from the user’s midsection, beyond the reach of fracture-prone hands and wrists, absorbing impact from the fall. The SAF-T VEST airbag system, encompassing the front-facing donut shape, along with inflation protection for the back of the head, the shoulders, forearms, wrists, hips and pelvis represent an important design advantage over systems which provide airbag protection for the hips only. The direct medical cost of fall injuries is more than $50 billion annually when adjusted for inflation. By 2020 the cost could hit $67 billion. In the past decade, the death rate from falls in older adults increased 31%.
Preventing falls has proved elusive. Medications can affect our balance. Diminished vision, hearing and reflexes due to age increase the risk. Experts recommend staying physically active, getting regular medical, vision and hearing checks and using assistive devices like canes and grab bars.
Walk with confidence
By reducing the risk and severity of injury, the SAF-T VEST helps the user remain active and avoid the physical decline associated with a fall injury. After suffering a fall, people often begin to limit their activities out of a fear of falling again. However, reducing activity can increase frailty and trigger the cycle of falls all over again. Dr. Davenport designed the SAF-T VEST so that seniors could remain active, confident—and independent.