Keep moving: unraveling the effects of rollator assistance on movement in older adults using a robotic rollator simulator

The ability to move independently is fundamental to a person’s quality of life. Unfortunately, difficulty in walking or getting up from a chair is common among elderly. In these cases, rollators are often provided to lean on to, thereby aiming to improve balance or to compensate for weak legs. However, it is unclear if rollators affect movement and actually reduce weight on the legs or improve balance. These research gaps significantly delay further development of new and intelligent mobility systems. The steady increase in the aging population has given rise to the need for smart assistive devices to prolong independent living in older adults.

This proposal utilizes the unique availability of a state-of-the-art robot that can simulate rollator assistance, a fully equipped motion capture lab, as well as complementary expertise from HU and KIT to evaluate the effect of rollators on movement in young and elderly adults. We focus on sit-to-stand transitions and gait, as these movements are a prerequisite for many daily activities and often result in falls in older adults.

We aim to perform a collaborative experiment to analyze how rollator assistance affects movement as a function of levels of support (light touch vs complete support) and task difficulty (normal vs challenging situation). In accordance with their research focus, HU und KIT pursue individual but closely interwoven aims:

  1. HU: Examine the effect of rollator support on posture, stability and joint loading.
  2. KIT: Examine the effect of rollator support on motor coordination.

This is the first comprehensive biomechanical analysis of the human-rollator interaction during everyday tasks using a specialized robotic device. The study will provide a rich dataset that will be co-published in international journals and will support a joint DFG or EU proposal for a more comprehensive outlook on the role of smart assistive devices in fall detection and/or prevention.

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