Transcript: Space4U podcast, Katharine Forth

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. I am Carah Barbarick with the Space Foundation and you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today. We are joined by Dr. Katharine Forth from Zibrio, The Balance Scale. Katharine Forth, the CEO, has a doctorate in motor control and conducted a postdoctoral fellowship at NASA.


She is an expert in postural stability and has created award-winning balance training programs for older adults. She is also a world champion athlete. Thanks for joining us today, Katie. Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m really excited to speak with you today because I think there’s various aspects of our own health that are completely overlooked.


And I would say one of those that I’ve overlooked is postural stability. So as an expert in that, can you give me an idea of what’s the difference between posture postural stability and why is it so important? Postal stability is a fancy word. Really, if you will standing the way that you align your body, that is your posture, but how do you maintain the stability of that posture relative to gravity?


So this is now how much am I swaying? What is my balance? As I said, the postural stability is just a fancy way of saying how well am I balancing? And, uh, and when we look at. How will we balance and that postural stability, it then really allows us to know, well, how well is this particular person moving on Earth and handling gravity?


Because gravity’s the thing that’s pulling us down all the time anyway. And we’re trying to resist that to maintain our posture and we have to control ourselves to build, to do that. That makes sense. What are some of the statistics then of those over age 60? They’re really quite frightening. Um, falling down is a very big issue.


It’s the meeting cause of trauma injury and trauma death. And that’s across any ages. If you’re over 65, one in four older adults fall down every single year. And this leads to $50 billion in medical costs every year. And that’s actually a double in the next decade, which is quite frightening. It’s widespread, it’s costly.


And it’s also deadly, too. Wow. I had no idea. Those are some very sobering statistics, you know, for all of the listeners out there, you probably know somebody who is falling down and my grandma’s, she fell in her 80s. She was a very athletic woman and it was just so heartbreaking to see the impact of this fall.


She did break her wrist and her hip. She’s just never the same minute ultimately led to her demise. And so when you see this unnecessary event occur, that’s the thing that really motivated us. It’s myself and my co-founder that really motivated us to really try and help people. So rather than just keeping the technology that we’ve invented, just for astronauts, we wanted to save the world from falling down.


So that, that became the mission and the true genesis of a Zibrio. So was it your grandma that really led to your getting a doctorate in motor control? I think my grandmother was a wonderful example of physical activity. She was very active, even as a young child, I was kicking the football with her and she was in her seventies and, and that was just normal.


So as I continued through. With a keen interest in movement with my own experiences in school. So as well, you start to see the bigger picture that yes, there’s performance for sport, but there’s also performance for life. So as all of these parts started to come together, this is really where my personal development and interests, the direction that my personal interests took me was, was to incorporate all of these different things.


So think you’ve mentioned, uh, it’s across the board, you have your athletes, you have your general public, you have your older generation, and really it’s important for all aspects of life to have this motor control. Can you describe a little bit how that led to connection to NASA? That’s a has its own interesting human performance is that with microgravity, when an astronaut goes and experiences, microgravity, the body goes through many different changes and some of those changes affect your postural stability too.


As I mentioned, standing and maintaining your balance, it’s a gravity issue and a mystery until you understand gravity. Applying my science to micro gravity and astronauts and the world that NASA occupies to me was just fascinating because this is just another, another extension of, of how the body can adapt performance.


Getting yourself better is adaptation. The changes in microgravity is also adaptation. And so I guess that’s the bigger picture for me and my interest is how does the body adapt? And how does that affect its personal performance? And you did extensive research. So what did you notice? How did the body adapt in microgravity environment?


Yes. Well, my, my interest really lies in the sensory information that is inputting into the body to then allow the body to control itself. And the experience at NASA really opened my eyes to how important the fetal. Well, you think about it when we’re walking around on us. Think the main point of contact with our environment and the information coming through from the feet is just so rich and valuable.


So I think that was one of the eye-opening pieces of how valuable that stimulation is when you’re in microgravity, your feet aren’t getting stimulated quite as much. And so we’ve learned an awful lot about how the foot inputs can really help and hurt the control of postural stability as well as other movements as well.


Interesting. I never even thought about how important. The data coming in from your feet would be yes. And then when you think about when people don’t actually do very much exercise here on Earth, what does that really mean? When people don’t do as much activity and the more sedentary their body’s deconditioned, why aren’t we seeing that with COVID-19 as well?


I mean, you’re sitting, you’re sitting down it’s, it’s not that your feet are the main source of input. It’s other sources that are feeling that contact when you’re sitting down your bottom, for instance, and that doesn’t really trigger off the same set of patterns that we have seen through the feet. So.


Getting up, getting moving. Yes, this is great for your muscles. This is great for so many different parts, but it’s also stimulating your feet, which really helps to maintain the pathways that your body needs to be at its best. Wow. I’m wanting to stand up right now just to make sure my feet are getting good stimulation.


Oh, you took this information and all of these studies and you created this smart scale for balance. How exactly does it work? The Zibrio Smart Scale is very similar to your weighing scale that you would have in your own bathroom. It measures your weight as well. And when you stand on it, it’s measuring the forces on your feet.


We combine us forces for a central pressure and then. When measuring the body over time. So over 60 seconds and we’re measuring the sway that’s occurring, then we apply artificial intelligence onto the sway pattern, and we can identify patterns of stability and instability. And really what this means is that we can identify these might failures of control that you’re carrying when we’re standing up.


And we all have them. We just don’t really know that we’re having them, but we can measure them, put it into a really easy to understand scale. Just one to 10. And we have a full risk categories across that number scale. So one, two and three means high risk for falling four or five, six with moderate and seven above is green and low risk.


That’s really how it works, but then we’re trying to make it simple and easy to understand. So when you get your score and say you have a high fall risk, What are the next steps with the smart scale? Well, first of all, now you know that in the next 12 months that you, you have a high probability of falling, so that’s very useful.


You can also see where do I fit in my age group? Am I average? Am I above average, below average? That’s nice to know too. The apps that comes with the scale. That’s the Zibrio Balance Coach app that guides people through. We have the school, which is the, what this says, what am I today? What do I score today?


How is my balance today? The app is more of the why. Why did I school that school today? Because, and you might be surprised, but the balance actually changes every day. Your ability to balance changes every day. And so measuring it really helps you to improve it within the app. We’ve got the six pillars of balance and the user can then navigate through these six pillars.


It’s things like sleep and exercise and they need medical conditions and you can see what is helping and hurting or balance today. Then we provide a personalized wellness guide to help you. You know what to do to improve. I’m utterly fascinated. That sleep is one of the pillars of your balance. Poor sleep is very noxious to your balance.


So just one bad night’s sleep can actually drop your balance quite dramatically. Oh goodness. So would you recommend people getting on the scale every day? People engage with it the same way they do with a weighing scale. Some people like once every six months, I’m good. Just wanted to see where I was and other people every single day, multiple times a day, need to know maybe you do your spin class and did that affect your balance and are you fatigued?


And now that you’ve rested a little bit, is it getting better? And. Whenever you have a measurement tool, you use it in so many different ways, but, but I think it’s particularly useful just to see what are my daily fluctuations. What are my weekly fluctuations? If you have a personal trainer, are they helping your balance?


If your score’s not going up. So then you can say, please help my balance a little bit more. It’s a tool to empower you to then make better choices and to be able to motivate you to want to engage in healthier behaviors. Taking all of that, who really is your main target audience for this balance scale?


Well, going back to the passion, we really wanted to make this available to people. Uh, somebody like my grandmother, who. Is the, if she would have wanted to have tested herself beforehand, we want to make sure that she has that opportunity. We’re looking at providing this so that people can have it in their own homes so you can purchase it.


To have it in your own home, but we also know that we can reach many more people through other means as well. So we want this to be in every doctor’s office. We want this to be in senior living facilities and you know, all the way up and down that continuum. Ultimately, when you’ve got a measurement tool like this, it can empower everybody similarly to the blood pressure machine.


You know, you see the blood pressure machine used in hospitals, but also people use it at home. So you would recommend not waiting until you think you have balance issues or have any of those factors, but going ahead and being proactive. Absolutely right. Our balance does decline over time, just generally speaking, but you can also do things about it.


Often people wait until they’ve actually fallen down until they think I need to do something. And how about we avoid that first fall? How about we actually get people to function better earlier in their 40s and 50s and 60s. Because then if you’re functioning better, you can do or things that you do or things you can have more fun.


Right. That’s what life’s about. Is it not? Yes, I totally agree. So how would the average person even know that they have balance issues before they have a fall? Yeah. The only way to do it is to measure is animals with so good at adapting. If NASA hasn’t shown us this, we can adapt microgravity and then we can readapt back to the gravity environments of Earth and the body is adapts quickly.


And with balance, it actually adapt very quickly. So you can see gains, um, in a very short timeline, a couple of weeks, even you can see improvements with the same happens on the reverse. You can see the declines occurring very, very quickly. So if you suddenly stop your exercise classes, we see drops, dramatic drops.


People who are scoring sevens can find themselves down in the tunes. So, so that means low risk down into a high risk. Get an, all of that. You want to know where you are. If you had any desire to be healthy with your weight, with your exercise programming, you wouldn’t go into the gym and not even look at how heavy the weights were.


You would know the progression and this is where I am, and I want to improve it. If you will. I know weight loss program, or maybe you don’t even know if you want to do a weight loss program. People typically weigh themselves first and say, oh yeah, that is a bit more than where I want to be. And here’s the normative range.


So we’re providing the same thing, but with balance. Here’s where you are and here’s where you want to be to be functioning well. And also here’s your 30-plus-year trajectory of risk. If you continue as you are, this is where you’ll be in 30 years. And is that where you want to be? And we’ve seen time and time again, how motivating this school has been for people.


People are. Engaging in more exercise classes, they’re seeking out just many more health behaviors, but I think one of the most striking is that when we left off scale in a senior living facility, just for open use, there was a 64% reduction in falls from the previous year. We didn’t give them an intervention.


We just gave him that school. It was to then, to them, um, make changes in their life. And we understand that they did because they were exercise classes available to them. It’s a bit like the ship, miss effect. So you know how many steps you’re taking. You may want to take more. I mean, that’s stunning that 64% without any support just self-motivation essentially.


Well, we’ve seen this with exercise compliance that when people are forced to do things, they’re not really going to comply so much, but if you empower them and motivate them in a way that they truly own the health journey, that you’re more likely to get outcomes from that.


And so. With the Zibrio, we’re empowering the user. We’re providing the information for them to take control of their health trajectory. Then with the recent focus on so much, tele-health I feel like you’re addressing that in a very simple way. They can have the scale at home. They can have the app. That’s exactly right.


Yep. Remote patient monitoring. And that that’s clinically supported. Remote patient monitoring is very much something that’s going to benefit patients and users as well, because now. The health monitoring of people in their own homes and the way that they interact with clinics mean that COVID-19 has really helped to accelerate that process and, and where preventive health really hasn’t had a strong place in that healthcare model really.


I think remote patient monitoring is now really going to be highlighting the benefit of preventive health. And Zibrio is very much a leading indicator. I mean, we can get 20 years ahead of a full events. So this is a way to truly get people to the healthiest, best version of themselves. Decades before the time that they might even need treatment in a clinic, the future is most definitely in remote patient monitoring and preventative health.


And this blurring of typically we were thinking of it as consumer and clinical market, but it’s more wellness versus the harder clinical services. I think you’ll see this with other companies that are starting to come into this realm too. Yes. I like that idea of I can prevent something way in the future, but then that in-between time really will be a much better time healthier for me.


It’ll be physically healthier or which will then lead to my mental health and all of that because I’m taking some preventative steps to prevent a fall in the future. That’s right. And then the other key part of this is that when you’re collecting data on yourself, um, or on your patients every month, every week, rather than every year now, you’ve got these much shorter feedback loops to provide personalized care.


That’s a huge disruptor within healthcare in of itself. Most definitely. And I know I’m not the only one that’s excited about the great work you’re doing. Can you share about some of your recent awards and recognitions?


Well, you were lucky to squeeze in an event in 2020, and that was CBS. And we did win an innovation award at that event. And we also won the CS pitch competition that was sponsored by ALP. So that sets off 2020 on a good note before other things happen. Yeah. And what are those awards mean for the future of your, your balance scale?


I think what this shows is that we, the technology that we invented at NASA not only has value for astronauts. Now, the people of Earth are recognizing that this has value for them too. I love it. The people were so good. Well, is there anything else you really want to share?


I think one of the things that’s really rewarding about this product and this company is that we’re providing a lot of hope. And, uh, an opportunity to people that really have started to give up a little bit. Um, when we had our scale for our users in a, in a senior living facility, I actually visited them every Friday for two years and I chatted to them and I mean, I had hugs.


I had cheers. I had pictures, but the emotions connected with falls and poor balance and poor mobility. They’ve so strong and complex as well. And the reason that the hugs and kisses came is because they worked hard. They knew where they were. It matched what their deep-down feeling was and they had concerns, but they couldn’t really articulate it and it felt justified to speak about it.


And when they quantified it now, they gave them the language and the numbers to really say, yeah, this is where I am. I want to be better. They did things about it. They saw their score go off and that brought such joy to them, but he would go into the hallway and just start shopping to their friends.


No, I go and, and I think that is what really fills us, fills our soul as a company, to know that we’re doing the right thing and this NASA technology truly can help people. That’s absolutely perfect. Oh, well, thank you Katie, for joining us today. I so appreciate you sharing about this exciting new balance scale that you have coming out that will help so many people here on Earth.


And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and Google Play. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website, where you can also learn about the various ways to support the Space Foundation.


On all of these outlets and more, it’s our goal to inspire, educate, connect, and advocate for the space community, because at the space foundation, we will always have space for you. Thanks for listening.

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Space4U Podcast: Katharine Forth – Zibrio