An interdisciplinary research team in Southern Arizona is studying how people move as they age.

This research is both providing new methods for helping people to maintain their mobility as the get older, and leading to the development of new technologies that can intervene in individuals daily lives, in positive ways.

"How we move through the world, or how we function, is really what we are about as human beings," says Jane Mohler. Mohler is the associate director of the Arizona Center on Aging.

She explains that, "as we age, sometimes our ability to function is decreased." This may happen simply because of the aging process, or because of conditions such as stroke or heart disease, that are associated with aging.

Engineer Bijan Najafi, director of the Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance, works with clinicians, health care providers and individuals to develop technologies that can study how people move.

"For example, how long it takes to sit in a chair, whether they can do this job easily or not. Whether they can easily walk around, actually, their home. Whether they can stand. Whether they have good sleeping."

These are parameters that scientists already know are associated with the risk of falling. Using sensors developed by Najafi and a team of engineers, it is now possible to measure these parameters outside of the clinic, in everyday settings.

This data is useful because researchers can try new techniques, such as Tai Chi, to see if the therapies improve people's daily mobility. The same devices have further applications, because they can actually cue people to be more active.

For example, people who have cognitive impairments may be able to wear a watch that reminds them to take care of tasks, such as drinking water. Or, if the detector determines that an individual has not opened a pill bottle, it can alert that individual that it is time to take a medication.

This research involves what is called bioinstrumentation, devices that can measure physiological processes. Bioinstrumentation teams design, fabricate, test and manufacture such devices.