In a new application of computer gaming technology, Xbox 360 Kinect is helping to detect the onset of disease and assess fall risk in seniors. Motion-sensing technology, found in some high-end gaming devices, can help monitor seniors’ health, according to studies from the University of Missouri.

Researchers looked at patients at an independent living community in Columbia, Mo., examining behavior and changes in routine. In a separate study, Doppler radar was used to detect changes in walking, bending and other movements that may indicate an increase in fall risk.

“Different human body parts create unique images, or ‘signatures,’ on Doppler radar. Since falls combine a series of body part motions, the radar system can recognize a fall based on its distinct ‘signature,’ ” explained researchers in a statement.

By analyzing patterns of movement, signs of illness and decline in function can be spotted. Specifically, gait analysis provides clues that may indicate heightened risk of a fall. Wireless capabilities could then alert health-care providers to the increased risk, thereby possibly preventing a harmful tumble.

Researchers say that one application of this technology would be to provide continuous fall risk assessment in the home, so that very early changes could be addressed. Red flags might include changes in the speed of walking or an asymmetrical gait pattern (limping, variable step length, etc.).

For more on preventing falls, see: