Physical therapy device helps patients, health care professionals, and could reduce costs

Feb 13, 2015

 

Landers walks on crutches while hooked up to the SafeGait.
Credit Credit Nazareth College

It all began with one Gorbel employee, says President Brian Reh, who was going through physical therapy with her daughter.

"The idea came originally from one of our employees who had experienced first-hand how tough it was to go through gait rehabilitation with the current lack of technology. We had a lot of great things we were doing in the industrial technology sector, and she came forward and said, What if we could apply this to the health field?"

Gorbel specializes in industrial handling equipment, like cranes, that are engineered to lift, balance, and hold materials. Reh says their engineers were able to apply the same science when making the transition to health technology.

"We have a thing called float-mode, which allows you to take a heavy object and float it with just a couple pounds of pressure. It's the same concept here but on the human body just providing a constant support, no matter where you are -- in a standing or sitting position."

In the two years since they began their endeavor, Gorbel has designed a mechanism that consists of a harness, a hanger, and a track, as well as a software component. It's called the SafeGait, and Reh says it was created in large part thanks to the suggestions and input from health care professionals and patients at local colleges, like Nazareth.

J.J. Mowder-Tinney is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Nazareth. She says they've just begun working with the new technology, but thinks the benefits are already apparent.

"This equipment allows us to provide safe, but challenging, activities that allow people to reach their highest potential, and that's what we're all here for."

During a demonstration, Mowder-Tinney worked with Mark Landers. Landers is an amputee; with a prosthetic right leg that goes all the way up to his hip. Mowder-Tinney hooked Landers up to the device, which looks like a rock-climbing harness with more support for the wearer's torso. Straps from the harness connect to hooks overhead, which are then attached to a raised rail system that allows for a certain level of mobility.

But the ingenuity of the device goes beyond its hardware's aesthetic. Mowder-Tinney says the most beautiful thing about the SafeGait is that it reduces the risk of falling.

"The research has shown a person's fear of falling correlates directly to their risk for falls. So, when they're scared of falling their not going to push themselves."

Gorbel employees have high aspirations for the technology. They want to see its usage expand beyond physical therapy, maybe someday into hospital rooms across the country. Mowder-Tinney says the SafeGait also reduces the risk of injury for the physical therapist, not only because there is less strain in maneuvering the patient, but because the patient is less likely to hurt their therapist in an accident.

It also means that fewer people are needed to help patients in physical therapy, which could potentially lower costs. Ongoing research studies at SafeGait sites - Nazareth, Monroe Community Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Ohio State University - will determine any economic benefits, as well as patient outcomes.

Landers has his own goals in mind.

"My daughter is getting married in August. I want to walk her down the aisle, unassisted."

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