Walking the Path to Safety: The Impact of Gait Analysis on Fall Rates in Skilled Nursing

Updated on May 24, 2024

Falls represent a significant challenge in the older adult population, particularly within skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). As individuals age, their risk of falling increases due to factors such as decreased muscle strength, impaired balance, and chronic health conditions. SNFs do their best to routinely assess residents for functional declines, however, often small changes in mobility go undetected until they become a noticeable safety concern — or after a fall has occurred.

That’s why many organizations are turning to technology to help monitor patient function and risk status. Gait is a window into one’s health and functional status — and particular deviations are especially strong predictors of fall risk. Current research recommends that nursing home residents undergo routine gait assessment as part of fall prevention protocols. By analyzing gait parameters such as speed, asymmetries, and variability, healthcare professionals can identify subtle changes that may otherwise go unnoticed until it’s too late. This proactive approach enables personalized interventions, ranging from targeted exercise programs to environmental modifications, with the overarching goal of enhancing mobility, reducing fall risk, and ultimately improving the quality of life for older adults.

This article explores how several SNFs in California have implemented novel motion intelligence technology to facilitate robust fall prevention protocols with great success!

Several SNFs in California lean into gait analysis technology and reduce falls by 35%!

Using OneStep, a digital care platform that uses smartphone-only motion intelligence to provide clinically validated gait analyses in seconds, several SNFs in California have been able to successfully reduce falls among their residents. These facilities use OneStep to capture initial functional mobility and gait metrics that serve as resident baselines. After, residents are routinely screened simply by taking weekly walks using the app — either independently or with a member of the care team such as a restorative nursing assistant (RNA). When a change in status is detected, providers are automatically notified and can intervene quickly. This helps to streamline mandatory screening processes and empower clinicians with objective mobility data that can be used to justify bringing a patient back into skilled therapy, and to make quick and effective, data-driven decisions.

Greater use of gait analysis technology was correlated with fewer falls

Notably, a correlation was found between these SNF buildings with high utilization of gait analysis technology and decreased falls. The facilities with the highest usage saw a 15% reduction in falls followed by a 13% reduction in falls for buildings with medium usage. (Facilities where patients are measured weekly were considered high use and monthly were considered medium use. Low use refers to facilities where at least half of the patients were not measured regularly.) Low-use facilities actually saw a 4% increase in falls, comparable to the control facilities that did not use any type of gait monitoring and fall prevention technology. By implementing technology that makes gait analysis convenient and easy to fit into existing clinical workflows, most facilities fall into the high and medium-use categories.

Real patient stories: Capturing objective patient progress through routine gait analysis

Without the use of technology, gait analysis remains a rather subjective assessment that typically emphasizes only gait speed since this parameter can be captured relatively easily with a stopwatch. However, using smartphone gait analysis, clinicians can capture a vast array of spatiotemporal parameters that provide critical, more precise insight into patient mobility and progress.

Over just one month, a 77-year-old male resident demonstrated incredible improvement in the majority of his gait parameters! His gait speed improved by 0.5 m/s, putting him out of the fall risk range and on the cusp of the normative range for his age. His stride length improved and showed a transition from slow, short stride lengths indicative of a shuffling gait pattern to a more typical and safe length. Additionally, his gait consistency, step length, symmetry, double support, and cadence all improved as well, demonstrating a safer and more efficient gait pattern. This patient improved his functional mobility and decreased his fall risk in response to skilled therapy — which was captured easily and strongly documented with objective data.

Another patient, a 93-year-old female long-term care resident, is now walking with a smoother and more balanced gait pattern than before starting her program powered by OneStep. Her gait speed, cadence, consistency, and asymmetry parameters all improved — indicating enhanced functional mobility and reduced fall risk!

The best healthcare is proactive, not reactive — and technology is here to pave the way

By harnessing the power of gait data, clinicians can better tailor interventions and overall care plans to maximize treatment efficacy and optimize patient outcomes. Additionally, the ability to track patient progress and notify the care team of changes in status helps facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration of the care team for more holistic, proactive care. Providers can intervene preemptively — and strive together towards a future where falls among older adult patients become not only predictable but preventable occurrences.

Alaina Victoria
Alaina Victoria
Marketing and Sales Enablement Manager at OneStep

Alaina Victoria, PT, DPT, is the Marketing and Sales Enablement Manager for OneStep, and a doctor of Physical Therapy with a passion for digital health technology. Her prior experience includes working within the rehabilitation and orthopedic settings as both a permanent and travel therapist. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) including the APTA Academy of Geriatrics Physical Therapy, APTA Frontiers in Rehabilitation, Science and Technology Council, and APTA Health Promotion and Wellness Council.