October 1, 2008 Pulmonologists and biomedical engineers designed a device to enable patients on life support to leave their beds and walk upright as part of the recovery process. The device is essentially a walker with two alterations, the addition of a rack to hold life support equipment, and a nylon seat to catch and support the patient in case of slipping or weakness.
An intensive care unit (ICU) is home to critically ill patients who often spend day and night in bed hooked up to life support machines and monitors -- but not anymore. Now, a new device is getting patients out of bed faster than ever.
Gary English is lucky to be up and moving. It was just a few months ago that he came close to death.
"I went into kidney failure, and that immediately rushed me to the ICU," says English.
English spent three long months stuck in bed, in the ICU. "I just wanted to get out of bed really bad," English says. He did get up and move around, but walking critically ill patients, like English, on life support is a huge task for staff.
"Under the traditional approach to mobilizing a patient on life support from the ICU, it required four people to be involved," says Dale Needham, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. "That's very labor intensive and difficult to achieve in a busy ICU."
Now, critical care doctors are demonstrating a new mover aide that uses half the staff of traditional walkers. "We needed to make some changes in our equipment in order to make it easier and safer and better for patients, and thatýs what had us create this mover aide," Dr. Needham says.
Behind the patient, a built-in tough, nylon seat replaces a wheelchair. It's designed to catch a patient if they suddenly collapse. Life support equipment is attached to a tower on wheels. This new system needs only two hospital staff members to operate.
English said he believes this new device would have gotten him out of bed -- and out of the hospital -- sooner.
The original ICU mover aide was designed and built by Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineering students as part of a design course.
ICU MOVER AID: This device makes it easier for patients in intensive care units to get out of their beds and move around. The designers hope it will lift patients' spirits, hasten their healing, and protect them against ailments such as bedsores. It is essentially a walker combined with a rack to hold all their monitoring equipment, along with a supportive cloth seat placed behind the legs to catch the patient in case of a stumble or weakness. It also requires less staff support when patients leave their rooms.
HOW WE WALK: Walking is different from running because only one foot at a time lifts off the ground. During forward motion, the leg that leaves the ground swings forward from the hip, like a pendulum. Then the leg strikes the ground with the heel and rolls through the toe in a motion similar to an inverted pendulum. The motion of the two legs is coordinated so that one foot or the other is always in contact with the ground -- a so-called 'double pendulum' strategy. The process of walking recovers about 60% of the energy expended thanks to the pendulum dynamics and the ground reaction force. (The legs act as long levers that transfer ground reaction force to the spine.)
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.