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Balance-Sensing Scale Wins AARP's CES Pitch Event

Host Joe Montana praises fall-prevention technology for keeping older adults 'in the game'

Zibrio SmartScale beat out seven other startups in the pitch contest at CES in Las Vegas. See what the company does. 

Technology designed to help astronauts improve their balance after spaceflight is getting a new life as a fall-prevention system for older adults.

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The Zibrio SmartScale, which measures balance to assess fall risk, beat out seven other startups at the second annual Consumer Technology Association Foundation Pitch event, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs as part of a week of cutting-edge tech showcases this year at the massive CES Las Vegas electronics show.

Risk factors for falls

The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance of falling.

• Advanced age

• Chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, dementia, incontinence, Parkinson's

• Fear of falling

• Foot or ankle disorders

• Hazards in the home

• Low blood pressure upon standing

• Low Vitamin D

• Muscle 

• Poor balance and gait

• Poor vision

• Previous falls

• Side effects, like dizziness, from medications

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Using a real-time voting app, the audience deemed Zibrio's device most effective at helping older adults “stay in the game” — something that football legend Joe Montana, host of this year's pitch competition, said he could relate to as a professional athlete who has recovered from his fair share of injuries, including those affecting his balance.

Taking steps to minimize fall risk is a concern for all older adults, not just athletes. More than 1 in 4 Americans 65 and older fall each year, making falls the leading cause of accidental death among that age group, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the science of fall risk factors is well established, many people aren't aware of it — nor do they have a way to monitor or improve their own balance on a day-to-day basis, says Zibrio CEO Katharine Forth, a neuroscientist and motor-control expert who completed a postdoctoral fellowship at NASA, where the SmartScale's balance-sensing technology originated.

Empowerment is a key part of Zibrio's mission, Forth says.

"When [older adults] stand on the scale, suddenly they have a path forward, something that's quantified. That's such a relief, and gives them hope,” she says. “I think that's the most rewarding side of it."

No special balance-testing poses are required to use the SmartScale, just standing still and upright for 60 seconds with your eyes open. Inside, a special algorithm gets to work to compute a balance score from 1 to 10, which is then displayed and surrounded by a glowing ring of light — green, yellow or red — that corresponds with your risk level.

Seven or above is considered good balance. A score of 1 to 3 indicates increased fall risk.

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True to its name, the SmartScale also serves a far more basic function: letting you know how much you weigh.

The scale will roll out to consumers in April, but it's already been put to use in a Houston nursing home where fall rates were cut in half during a two-year trial period. Perhaps that's because of some friendly competition. Forth says residents frequently shared their scores with one another.

People can use an accompanying smartphone app, already available to download, to track their scores over time. The app also offers individualized, evidence-based recommendations linked to what Forth calls the “six pillars” of balance, including exercise, medication and sleep.

Winning at CES this year means that Forth and her team will get the chance in the fall to compete in AARP's Grand Pitch Competition, which had a $5,000 first-place prize last year, plus receive coaching and mentoring from executives at AARP Innovation Labs and P&G Ventures, a Procter & Gamble subsidiary that is another sponsor of this year's event.

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