ASU biomechanics professor addressing fall prevention through new partnership

biomechanics professor

Thurmon Lockhart, a biomechanics professor at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, hopes to predict and prevent dangerous falls, especially in older populations or those recovering from orthopedic surgeries.

Lockhart was recently named the first Musculoskeletal Orthopedic Research and Education, or MORE, Foundation Professor of Life in Motion, which will help him achieve this goal. This collaboration will help grow Lockhart’s latest focus: a smartphone app that can warn an individual if they are at greater risk of falling.

The app, called the Lockhart Monitor, first gathers a benchmark set of data for each person’s measures of gait, posture and stability. The system also works with your phone to gather parameters like walking speed and step length, and applies nonlinear dynamics to determine muscle motor control, a nonlinear, complex system like the weather or neuron pathways. The app triggers a warning to the individual if, at any point, these parameters drop below their baseline.

“Nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory permit our system to predict how a person will react to a perturbation, which is an unexpected event that creates instability,” Lockhart told ASU News. “This prediction enables an accurate assessment of their fall risk.”

The professorship with the MORE Foundation includes 5 years of financial support and access to patients at The Core Institute, one of the largest orthopedic and neurological clinical care providers in the country. 

Marc Jacofsky, the chief scientific officer for The Core Institute and executive director of the MORE Foundation, told ASU News that Lockhart’s technology has the ability to expand to treat more than older generations —  patients recovering from orthopedic surgeries could benefit mightily from the technology.

“It would also tell us how a patient is progressing in their recovery after surgery,” Jacofsky said. “Ultimately, it could guide us in restoring their walking ability to the point where they are no longer a fall risk or their risk is reduced to the level of someone who never needed surgery.”

Lockhart and Jacofsky are in the process of validating the technology with 100 patients undergoing hip or knee replacements at The Core Institute.

Lockhart told ASU News that an important message those who are prone to falling need to hear is they don’t need to worry anymore.

“We have solutions and these solutions are not just technology. They are technology-enabled capabilities that can help patients and their caregivers to more effectively restore mobility and real quality of life,” Lockhart said.