Multifunctional Flooring: Design for Independent Living

Project Details


The UK has an ageing population, currently with 12 million people aged 65 and over and projected growth to 17.5 million by 2040. The possibility of experiencing multiple chronic and complex health conditions increases with age. Unfortunately, according to a Public Health England report, healthy life expectancy has not risen at the same pace as life expectancy, which has resulted in the time spent in poor health increasing for older adults. Healthy ageing is vitally important and can have a direct impact on the quality of life and the sense of well-being in older people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines healthy ageing as "the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age."

Falls and related injuries are a major health issue facing older people, with significant long-term physical and mental effects that cause further decline in self-care abilities and participation in physical and social activities. According to the WHO, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths amongst people aged 65 and above, with half occurring in their own home. About 30% of people aged 65+and 50% of those aged 80+ experience a fall at least once per year. In the UK, fall related injuries are estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion annually. About 10% of all UK ambulance service calls are for people over 65 who have fallen, which leads to about 60% of cases being taken to hospital. The range of injuries that one can sustain from a fall are profound, with hip fracture and traumatic brain injuries having the most serious consequences and long-term effects. Only 31% of older people experiencing hip fracture will return to their previous level in activities of daily living. According to Royal College of Physicians, around 25% of hip fracture patients aged 65+ consequently need long-term care. Proper housing can keep older people healthy for longer, support them in living independently and reduce the need for social care. Housing modifications are important to assist older people in their adaptation to declining functional capacity. Unaddressed fall hazards in the home are estimated to cost the NHS in England £435 million annually according to Public Health England.

In this proposal, we aim to reduce falls and related injuries in older people by transforming homes into safer environments. This can have a profound impact on the sense of well-being and independence in daily life by alleviating the fear of falls at home and increasing mobility, which is one of the major pillars of healthy ageing. We will deliver this through a holistic design approach in developing novel multi-functional floorings with passive fall prevention, detection and protection in one integrated solution. Various functional demands will be considered including mechanical demands: i) stiff response for walking, providing stability and reducing the risk of falls; ii) compliant under impact, providing passive impact protection reducing the risk of severe injuries; and iii) wheeled object compatibility, reducing fatigue. Sensing demands will be incorporated including: i) passive and non-invasive movement tracking, monitoring the risk of falls; and ii) fall detection, providing fast post-fall emergency response, limiting the severity of fall injuries.

We will create design maps to capture the trade-off between different required functionalities by systematic exploration of the whole design space. This design space can then be exploited for multi-functional flooring, aiding designers to provide an optimal solution for a particular care setting. The project involves a multi-disciplinary group of academics in Engineering and Public Health, strong patient and public involvement, and collaboration with PolyFlor and Tarkett, two major manufacturers of commercial floor coverings, and Microchip, a leading provider of touch technology.
Short titleMultifunctional flooring
Effective start/end date1/02/2331/01/25