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The Science of Safer homes



1​2 July 2023


Astraline, Johnnie Johnson Housing and Liverpool John Moores University to deliver another pioneering research project.


If you’ve ever banged your head on a cupboard door, or tripped on the stairs, you may be interested in a new initiative by scientists to design-out home hazards.

The study, funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust, is based on neuroscience and biomechanical principles and aims to reduce accidents, particularly for older people, by understanding how our brains help us navigate safely through our homes.

A team, led by Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) in partnership with Astraline - part of the Johnnie Johnson Housing Association (JJH) group, is studying our domestic behaviour in unprecedented detail to create a new breed of human-centric architecture.

Researchers will spend three years tracking older residents’ walking characteristics, and what they look at, as they move through their homes. This data will then be used to create 3-D blueprints of living environments that are optimised for users’ safety. Outcomes of the study could have a big impact on the prevention of falls and accidents in the home, particularly among older and more vulnerable people.

Falls in the home are estimated to cost the NHS £435 million in England alone and research shows the causes often lie in design details, like lighting, floor colour schemes or distracting features that affect where people look.



Mark Hollands, Professor of Movement Neuroscience, at LJMU said: “Our study will turn participant’s homes into living laboratories and will produce data that can be fed into design software, routinely used by architects and interior designers, with a view to making our homes safer. We want to understand exactly how we navigate around our homes and why little details might lead to trips, falls and accidents.”

The scientists, with the help of the Dunhill Medical Trust, have teamed up with Astraline and Johnnie Johnson Housing to run the experiments at two housing sites in Manchester. Volunteer residents in the over-55 properties will wear a series of sensors which will measure their body and eye movements, providing accurate data in much more detail than would be achievable via manual recording methods. The technology includes an accelerometer, eye tracking software and a wristband that measures heart rate and electrodermal activity to give an indication of stress/anxiety levels.

Dr Timmion Skervin, a Biomechanist at LJMU, explained “Tests in our biomechanics laboratory at LJMU have shown that some older people don’t always move their eyes in an optimal way when walking. The ability to see hazards clearly can be affected by colours, patterns or simply lighting which is too dim. Anxiety about falling can also change looking and stepping behaviour which, paradoxically, can increase the risk of falls.”

“As people age, aspects of our surroundings can become increasingly challenging, and these can be minor things that could be modified if we can see where the problem lies.”

“It could be as simple as changing the colour of a carpet, or avoiding using certain light bulbs which take a long time to fully brighten. These changes should reduce residents’ anxiety and allow them to move around in a safer manner.”

Around 20 housing association residents will initially take part in the study, wearing the movement trackers for up to a week and eye-trackers for a maximum of 90 minutes at a time. They will also be monitored with Apple air tags to ascertain when they are not at home.

The study will compare residents in an older location, which has been identified as ready for renovation, and a more modern, recently refurbished property. Data will be analysed and used in the update of the older property to address any problems highlighted by the research. Testing will then be repeated to see if the changes have made a difference to residents’ ability to move around safely.

Joe McLoughlin, Managing Director of Astraline said, “We are excited to see what a difference this could make in real terms for JJH residents and beyond. Some of the key aspects of our work are to try to prevent accidents before they happen, and help residents to live safely, and for longer, at home. This research could pave the way to a rethink in how housing associations and developers design homes. Creating safer homes for residents and reducing avoidable injuries.”


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