U-M Flint teams with tech startup genusConnect to reduce falls in the elderly with support from a state grant

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one out of four older adults experiences a fall every year, and one out of five falls causes a severe injury. Two Michigan organizations are partnering to change that. The University of Michigan-Flint and Detroit-based technology startup genusConnect have teamed up through the state of Michigan’s Small Company Innovation Program to test an innovative new solution to the widespread problem.

In the grant-funded pilot, a physical therapy team at U-M Flint, led by Jennifer Blackwood, PT, Ph.D. will use the genusConnect software and app to increase family caregiver engagement and deliver essential physical therapy information, including the evidence-based Otago Exercise Program.

The genusConnect website and app connect caregivers and clinicians around a loved one in need, coordinating daily tasks of care, observations, medications and care plans. Developed in New Zealand, the Otago Exercise Program focuses on 17 strength and balance exercises delivered in the home. The six-month program has resulted in a 32% reduction in falls in older adults.

Over the course of six months, families in the pilot will receive exercise videos and articles through the genusConnect platform to help them coach their loved ones through exercises designed to reduce the likelihood of falls.

“genusConnect was founded through being there,” says CEO Joe Gleason. “After caring for two parents with dementia and seeing the enormous toll it took on my family, I knew we could do better. My family isn’t alone—there are tens of millions of families around the country fighting the daily battle of caring for a loved one, and they need real solutions.”

Dr. Blackwood’s team has designed a strategy to increase the adoption and success of the Otago program by engaging caregivers and embracing new mobile technologies.  Caregivers are a largely untapped resource capable of providing patients the help they need to implement vital exercises from the comfort of home. Studies show that engaging family caregivers can lead to a 25% reduction in avoidable hospitalizations.

“We’re all too familiar with what happens when our older loved ones fall,” adds Gleason. “For many, the fall is just the beginning of a rapid decline in cognition, strength and overall well-being. When my mother fell in the fall of 2018, we didn’t think she would ever return to independent living. She suffered mentally and emotionally for many months and experienced a tremendous setback in cognition. Through this partnership, we hope to improve outcomes and prevent devastating falls, offering peace of mind to patients and caregivers alike.”

The Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN) Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP) provides matching funds up to $40,000 to Michigan small businesses to help cover the cost of conducting a research project at any state of Michigan public university. MCRN is funded through the entrepreneurship and innovation initiative of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.The group will release a full report of the study’s findings in June 2019. To learn more about genusConnect, visit www.genusconnect.org/UofM.