Special shoe insoles invented at Victoria University to prevent costly and common stumbles and falls among the elderly were judged the world’s most innovative new care product at The Global Awards in London this week.
Dr Hanatsu Nagano, who received his award at a gala dinner, developed the insoles to address a worldwide concern that one-in-three elderly people suffer injurious falls each year.
The Global Awards were created in 1998 to recognise the rapid growth in the world’s over 50s age group, and reward the best individual and company performances in seniors’ goods and services.
Dr Nagano created the insoles as part of his PhD after two of his grandparents in Japan suffered debilitating falls.
“I am delighted that my research is recognised as making a social contribution to this very big problem by offering a product that is affordable, and can be easily made and used,” he said.
Dr Nagano estimates that his invention could save 36.5 billion Yen (or close to AUD$500 million) in direct medical costs in Japan for every one per cent decrease in incidents of trips and falls.
While only 15 per cent of Australians or about 3.5 million people are currently aged 65 or older, that proportion is forecast to rise to 25 per cent by 2050, the same as Japan.
Trials with Japanese partner, University of Tsukuba, proved Dr Nagano’s insoles could dramatically reduce falls among the elderly. They can also be beneficial for tripping-prone hospital patients suffering from conditions such as dementia or schizophrenia.
The insoles are designed with a series of raised bumps that follow a foot’s ideal centre of pressure to help with side-to-side balance, a shock-absorbing contoured heel, and a forefront that helps increase minimum toe clearance – the reason for many trips and falls.
They will soon be available as the ‘ISEAL Insole’ in specialty Australian pharmacies and online through Amazon.
Victoria University has an international patent on the insoles. Dr Nagano’s company, Global Bridge Melbourne, is working with Japanese fashion manufacturer and retailer, Caitac Family, to commercialise them.
This year, the Global Awards presented 28 awards for goods and services related to housing, medical tourism, healthcare innovation, and information technology. Judging criteria was overseen by an editor of 20 international journals that specialise in over-50s housing (including aged care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and retirement communities) and goods and services for their residents.
Dr Hanatsu Nagano is a postdoctoral research fellow specialising in biomechanics at VU’s Institute for Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL).