Moving into the Future: Assistive Technology Can Make a Difference
Many people love to travel. The issue of wheelchair accessibility on airplanes is important. Just as important for those of us who don’t use a wheelchair but are looking for better ways to get around is how we augment the strength we have with assistive technology.
In 2006, I first noticed some minor weakness in my left leg. I had spent six months on crutches at two different times in my life. This gave me some knowledge of using assistance to get around. And yet, because my symptoms were still relatively mild, I wasn’t even considering ways to improve my mobility.
My legs continued to lose a little strength each year, and by 2013, my left leg needed something more. My body was adapting by automatically locking my left knee with each step. This was causing the knee to hyperextend, making it painful to walk.
In a previous column, I mentioned how we have to overcome mobility obstacles by experimenting and finding individual solutions that work for us. After trying a couple of knee braces, I found one I liked. At that time, I only needed a simple, slide-on brace. This brace also had side strips that added strength and support. I went with a snug fit, something I’m now used to, and found that wearing the brace eliminated all pain.
I have continued to use this brace on my left leg for six years. (Last year, I started using a similar brace on my right leg.) I realize that as good a solution as this has been, my left leg is starting to need more help. I am having some pain now because the hyperextension has become more pronounced, and I have had to adjust the brace.
I am searching for the next level of support. While walking, I use a cane to help me balance, and when I travel, I use hiking sticks. Years from now, I will be able to go to a higher level of support with crutches.
But right now, the appropriate bracing is most important. There are some great adaptations that are helping braces become more supportive. The first is a spring-loaded technology.
These types of braces have more support than the slide-on braces I have been using. They are bigger and bulkier, and strap onto your leg. The theory with the spring-loaded brace is that the tightening and expanding of the spring can give you some “lift” when walking, standing, or climbing stairs.
I did connect with one company, but my attempts to try the brace were thwarted. The company is a small startup and not located near me, and each brace costs $2,400. Also, in conversations with the rep, I learned that it would not allow my knee to lock out, meaning I would not be able to go past a straight-leg position. This would cause me to fall. But I’m still interested in this idea of spring action.
The other type of brace I’ll mention, which is a significant step up from the spring-loaded brace, has electric/battery power. This brace can help lift you as you stand up and help you walk up stairs.
I have seen models of these braces that go for tens of thousands of dollars, but they provide a huge amount of lifting strength. Some of these, like the KEEOGO brace, are not yet FDA-approved for sale in the United States. Once it does receive approval, it will not be for use by individuals with muscular dystrophy right away.
The important point to me is that we are entering a new era of development. I expect that over the next few years, we will see better technology and, hopefully, lower prices.
What types of braces have you used? What has helped most? Let’s keep sharing ideas!
In a previous column, I related a conversation with my alter ego, Sammy. He has a knack for getting to the heart of important subjects, and his summation of the issue of wheelchair access to airplanes is perfect. It can be done, and we can all come together to make this happen. I am a volunteer with All Wheels Up, and we are making great progress in bringing this issue to light.
I’ve heard from a few people that they’d love to hear more from Sammy. He and I will be meeting soon at my favorite coffee shop, and I’m sure the conversation will be interesting. You will hear all about it.
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