File image: Reuters.

CAPE TOWN - French airbag technology company, Helite has launched a human airbag belt, aimed at preventing falls in the elderly. 

The R9 952 airbag, Hip’Air is a stuffed belt with sensors inside. The belt predicts when you are about to fall within 0.2 seconds. The airbag then inflates right above your hips to absorb the impact. The motorcycle airbag company says that their technology will likely work for other types of falls. 

With a plastic buckle on the front, HipAir is reasonably light. The arrows on the belt tell you which way to wear the belt. If incorrectly worn, the belt gives off a beep. Hip’Air claims it absorbs 90 percent of the impact from a regular fall, whereas a regular hip protector supposedly only absorbs 10 percent of the impact. Although the Hip'Air has been tested by the company, the technology is still too new for a clinical trial. 

Notably, the R9 952 belt is a steep difference in price to a standard hip protector which cost around R620.28. Also, the company will not be working with insurance companies which means that majority of people will not be able to afford it. 

Despite this, the belt will be available for pre-orders in March which will first roll out in France. Falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide. 

According to the World Health Organisation's (WHO's) August 2017 fact sheet, each year, an estimated 646 000 individuals die from falls globally. The financial costs from fall-related injuries are substantial. For people aged 65 years or older, the average health system cost per fall injury in the Republic of Finland and Australia are R44 796 and R13 019 respectively. 

Bearing in mind that the belt does not solve the root problem of falls, the elderly are also encouraged to implement lifestyle changes. Expert Dr Emma Redding said last year that the elderly should take up tango or ballroom dancing to prevent the risk of falls. 

She told the Cheltenham Science Festival that dancing meant taking physical risks, such as shifting weight from side to side or back to front. "This makes people much more confident when moving in everyday life", she said.  "The postural alignment is very important in preventing falls in older people and could help keep them safe". 

Director at Independent Age charity, Lucy Harmer, added, "Dancing increases stamina, and can help with flexibility and balance, all of which can help prevent falls. It can also be a great way to meet people and stay socially active too". 

ALSO READ: Take up the tango to cut risk of falls, elderly told

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