A Light for Their Path

A simple technology has a new role in helping movement disorder patients step forward

Laser pointers can be either a great help or an annoyance, depending on who is using it and where. Often found in corporate conference rooms, laser pointers are also banned from many sport and music venues due to the distracting and sometimes dangerous beams sent from mischievous audience members.

But a new use of the laser pointer has developed in the field of physical and occupational therapy, and this one definitely falls on the helpful side. The technology is part of a new type of walker called the U-Step Walking Stabilizer. Kevin Outzs, Coordinator of Occupational Therapy in St. Joseph’s/Candler’s inpatient rehab center, has been incorporating the U-Step into treatment for the past year.

“This new therapy tool is a simple one, yet it provides our movement disorder patients with an increased ability to take normal steps when they’re walking,” Outzs says.

The walker’s laser light is beneficial for anyone with gait disorders, such as patients with Parkinson’s disease. These patients often experience problems such as the freezing of their movements, or a condition known as festination, in which the quickening of the gait is involuntary.

“The light beam is projected onto the floor from inside the U-Step, and can be controlled by either the therapist or the patient,” Outzs explains. “The beam gives the patient a visual cue to allow them to step over the light. This way of stepping helps eliminate the freezing associated with movement disorders, while normalizing the patients stride during walking.”

The benefits of this unique walker literally don’t stop there. Its other key component is specialized braking capability.

“The braking system is reversed from standard walkers,” Outzs says. “It will not roll until the user lightly squeezes either hand brake.”

Because the U-Step will not roll away from patients, this walker is helpful for patients who are trying to stand up from a chair. Julia L. Mikell, MD, a neurologist who works with Outzs, says this feature increases safety for some Parkinson’s disease patients and those who have suffered strokes.

“Many of these patients have trouble with a regular walker, because once they get moving, the walker can sometimes get away from them,” Mikell explains.

“The laser light helps with stepping and stride, while the braking system helps with safety,” Mikell says. “We’re very pleased to have this doubly-effective tool in our arsenal.”
  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

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