Researchers have shown how to modify a smartphone so that it can be used to measure a person’s walking gait to prevent falls in people with compromised balance, such as the elderly or those with Parkinson’s disease.

The innovation, being commercialized as SmartGait, is designed as a tool to aid healthcare officials in assessing a person’s risk of falling and identifying ways to avoid injury.

“We know that people who are more likely to fall have slower gait speeds and variable stride time, step length and step width. But it’s hard to gather that information in an everyday environment,” said Shirley Rietdyk, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Department of Health and Kinesiology and a faculty associate with Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course.

The new system captures the gait length – the distance from the tip of the front foot to the tip of the back foot – and the gait width, the distance between each foot, and walking speed, said Babak Ziaie, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.

Until now, there has been no portable user-friendly system that could be worn for a period of time to record a person’s gait, said Ziaie, who is working on SmartGait with Rietdyk, doctoral student Albert Kim and graduate student Junyoung (Justin) Kim.

The researchers adapted a conventional smartphone that is worn on the waist, and the system records a person’s gait by measuring the distance between colored “foot markers” attached to the tip of each shoe.

Findings were detailed in a paper presented during the International Society for Posture & Gait Research 2014 World Congress.