Monday, November 30, 2020

Exoskeletons Improve Mobility (A Recent Study and A Future Outlook)

Exciting research!  This study set out to learn how many exoskeleton training sessions are necessary to help users "gain adequate exoskeletal assisted walking skills and attain velocity milestones."

Researchers offered participants the opportunity to use the Ekso GT and ReWalk.  Even 12 sessions made a positive difference for about two-thirds of the participants.  After 36 sessions, over 80% of everyone in the study had met the goals originally set by the researchers. 

Importantly, the study again indicates that exoskeletons can improve users' mobility overall.

According to Dr. Gail Forrest of Kessler Foundation:

"Participants showed improvement regardless of level of injury, completeness, or duration of injury . . . indicating that exoskeletons can be used to improve mobility across a broad spectrum of individuals with neurological deficits caused by spinal cord injury."

The United Spinal Association has a free resource with information about several exoskeleton types and availability for users with SCIs.  A 2020 article on The Spinal Cord Injury Zone discusses some of the exoskeletons' designs, limitations, and possible benefits.

From another perspective, outside of the world of spinal cord injuries, exoskeletons may be set to transform life for virtually everyone.  Several of those who have founded related start-ups estimate that the technology will be "commonplace" in ten years.  That's an impressive footprint — literally.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

What Can You Do?

Earlier this year I wrote about how many people with SCIs are having particularly difficult times during the lockdowns.  Since spinal cord injuries put people in the high-risk category for COVID-19, many with SCIs have lost access to critical resources and physical therapy.  I'm thankful to be able to continue with self-therapy at home, despite changes elsewhere.  It is not an easy situation.  Additionally, with the holidays approaching and some shut-downs worsening, people are voicing concerns about bad weather and increased isolation.  They're worried about feeling even more shut-in than they do now.

Today I want to draw attention to another group that is high-risk and suffering from loss of resources and from increased isolation in the midst of the lockdowns: senior citizens.  2020 has been extremely hard for older adults who are stuck at home and afraid or unable to go out.  Judith Graham calls the situation a "pandemic of despair" for seniors who are feeling discouraged and lonely.  One survey found that "loneliness doubled for older adults in (the) first months of COVID-19."  Mostly, family and friends are staying away to avoid exposing their loved ones to the virus.  They love their parents and grandparents, so of course they don't want to put them at risk.  It's a reasonable approach, if not necessary in many cases.  The problem is the nature of COVID-19.  Avoiding exposure by increasing isolation may prevent the virus, but it can also contribute to poor mental health — especially when people are frightened.  That's true of anyone, regardless of age.  However, for those who are living alone or in a center without family and close friends nearby, loneliness can be overwhelming.  It's no secret that COVID-19 has a negative impact on everybody, whether or not someone has contracted the virus. 

People are trying different things to fill the gap caused by social distancing for seniors.  A county in Mississippi is advertising a drive-thru event for Senior Citizen's Appreciation Day (Nov. 19), where organizers will be handing out sack lunches and small items of encouragement.  A thoughtful high school student in Indiana is delivering Christmas gifts and safety kits to residents at a senior living center.  Another more common suggestion is to stay in touch via FaceTime and phone calls.  These all seem to be good ideas, and they are needed.  Little things make an impact.

Please think of what you can do to reach out to others right now.  It's important that people recognize their lives count.  I know that I have heard from a lot of senior citizens who are disappointed about how their holiday plans are already being disrupted.  Many of them are terrified and lonely.  Most of them are in their eighties and nineties, making them particularly susceptible to COVID-19.

If you can, please take the time to reach out to seniors around you.  They might be suffering more than you know.  Whatever the case, a little extra encouragement can go a long way.  It is Thanksgiving season, after all.  Giving to others is a small way to say thank you for what we have.