Katharine Forth, Ph.D.
It’s a fear many of us can relate to—an elderly family member tripping over a lump in the carpet; a loved one, living by themselves, failing to notice that extra step leading into the kitchen; or a fleeting, momentary lapse in balance that can have catastrophic effects. While Americans are living longer than ever, and remaining healthier and more active in the process, adults over the age of 65 are at constant risk for falls. At best, these accidents signal a severe loss of mobility and threaten personal independence; 50% of those who fracture their hip never return home. The leading cause of accidental death in seniors—1 in 3 will suffer a fall each year—falls are, incorrectly, seen as an almost inevitable part of the aging process. Katharine Forth, Ph.D., chief executive officer of iShoe, has dedicated her career to righting that misconception.
“My co-founder, Erez [Lieberman Aiden] and I both had grandmothers who suffered a fall and fractured their hip, which ultimately led to their deaths,” reflected Forth. “We experienced the reality of how a fall can dramatically change your life. At NASA, Erez and I were sitting around a table with my mentor, Dr. William Paloski, talking about postural control after spaceflight and trying to depict the changes, algorithmically. We got up from the table that day and decided to take action.”
That casual conversation sparked some dramatic results. Originally working to help astronauts regain balance on the moon after extended flights in zero gravity, Forth and Lieberman Aiden were determined to use their findings to empower people here on Earth. They finally found their footing as a balance diagnostics company, leveraging the technology they developed at NASA to detect deteriorating balance and enable rehabilitation—and potentially prevent a disaster in the making.
“The major obstacle in this area is that the general population assumes that poor balance is just a part of aging, and that little can be done for it,” Forth said. “In fact, balance is just like a muscle—if you don’t use it, you lose it. To be able to quantify balance gives a wealth of opportunities for individuals and clinicians to prevent that potentially catastrophic fall.”
According to Forth, there is currently no low-cost, reliable method to quantify balance and identify fall risk at home. iShoe’s main product offering—the En Pointe balance scale, available for both consumer and clinical use—would fit seamlessly into an ordinary bathroom or doctor’s office. After stepping on, users are awarded a score from 1-10, giving them a way to gauge their balance, identify problems early, and, most importantly, seek additional methods to ensure they’ve always got both feet firmly on the ground.
“There are a lot of different things you can do to improve your balance,” affirmed Forth. “From a clinician’s perspective, they can prescribe physical therapy—that’s one of the best things for patients. In terms of general, daily improvements: exercise, strength training, vitamin D supplementation, and just checking your medication are all important. We can be an early alert for the fact that someone just changed their blood pressure medications, for instance, and haven’t quite adjusted their stability yet. We really try to help people assess which lifestyle influences are contributing positively and negatively to their balance.”
Transitioning from her days as a neuroscientist for NASA to the fighting-pits of entrepreneurship with ease, Forth—also an elite Ultimate Frisbee player—has never stopped shooting for the stars.
“I would like to see the En Pointe balance scale in every physician’s office so that it becomes a standard part of a wellness check,” said Forth. “Your height, your weight, your blood pressure, and your balance— measured at every check up. If it becomes routine, people can feel more comfortable talking about falling and will be empowered to seek action. Someone might say, ‘My balance has been fine for the last three months and it’s suddenly taking a dip. Tell me, why?’ No more can a doctor respond, ‘It’s because you’re 92.’ We want to empower people to be proactive about their health and give clinicians a necessary tool to care for their senior population.”