New technology at Sparrow helps patients relearn to walk, builds confidence

Posted at 3:14 PM, Feb 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-06 15:20:37-05

Relearning how to walk can be a challenging task. Not only for the patient, but also for the rehabilitation therapists.

Sometimes, it can take two to three physical therapists to help with a patient as they relearn how to walk. This is to ensure that the patient is safe, as well as going through the motions of walking.

Staying with the evolution of technology and medicine, Sparrow’s Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Clinic now has a new piece of equipment that will help those needing to, learn to walk in a safe environment.

Building strength

The SafeGait system is a type of unweighing training system, which utilizes a harness that resembles a parachute harness.

The harness is put on the patient, and a member of the therapy team can adjust the settings to take a percentage of the patient’s body weight off.

 “With this system, it helps unweigh a bit,” said Kris Tennant, Director at Merry Free Bed.

She explained that while the patient may not have enough strength to walk, sit or go up stairs with 100-percent of their body weight, lessening it can make the task achievable.

“Lets say they are sitting in a chair, but they do not have the full strength to stand repeatedly on their own,” Tennant said. “With this system, it will help unweigh them a bit.”

The actuator which controls the amount of weight is adjusted with a remote, and Tennant said that what use to take several therapists, now only requires one.

“We can put the harness on, take weight off and (the patient) can work with a therapist one-on-one,” Tennant said. “It also frees their hands up so they can do more effective training.”

Breaking the barriers, building confidence

The system also has a built in safety net, so to say, which can sense when the patient is moving too fast or falling.

“If somebody is standing and their leg buckles, as soon as that happens the system senses that and it locks them in place,” Tennant said. “The system will sense if there is that velocity. There is no risk to fall. This is a fall free, safe environment.”

Tennant explained that the system can be used for not only people who have suffered an illness where they are relearning how to walk, but those who need the confidence to remain mobile and build the strength.

“We can put them in the harness, in a protective environment and have them gain their confidence,” Tennant said. “As they get more confident and stronger, we can decrease the support offered by the system. We can also practice a lot of different tasks, like getting up from the floor, up and down stairs. All are big barriers and challenges for patients.”

The other patient populations include those who have had a leg amputated and may be nervous about putting their full weight on their artificial leg.

“They may not trust it or they may not like how it feels to use [their artificial limb],” said  Tennant. “We can get them comfortable to shift that weight. They can practice it, and it is a very safe opportunity for them to do that without having them have four therapists holding them.”

Creating the patient care experience

The SafeGait system started being installed in November and December of 2016. After that, the therapy team started to get training and familiarity with the harness and its software.

“It will be another wonderful tool to help drive the patient care experience,” Tennant said. “That is the beauty of rehabilitation, we see majestic moments happen every day. Today, I had tears in my eyes when (a patient using the system said he felt normal walking again.

“He is working very hard on rehabilitation for many years. To get that type of independence and functionality to return. It is amazing to watch it happen.”