For the present, the nationwide movement to end manual patient handling is concentrating on situations where the burden is greatest – caring for people with severely-limited mobility or who are bedridden. Most of the patient-handling equipment on the market addresses this end of the mobility spectrum, leaving a hole for no-manual lift equipment designed for less dependent people. Craig Weaver set out to plug the hole when he became aware of the risks to people in this category of dependency – and particularly to their caregivers.
Weaver, the principal of WeCare Products/Medical Group, LLC, invented the LiftWalker/LiftRollator for people who need no more than assistance to transfer from seated to standing positions. The invention builds the principle of leverage into the familiar walker, and, once on the market, it could replace its venerable forebear. Weaver has secured the patent for his invention and expects it to go into production soon. If all goes as planned, people who need a walker or rollator will choose Weaver’s version from the start.
The Ergonomics Report® recently explored the concept and its origins with the inventor because it has the potential for being a safer and simpler way to handle the vast number of people in the three lowest categories of dependency. These are people who need help out of a chair, as well as other mobility assistance. At level one, the need is occasional. At levels two and three, the need is more consistent. Most people at these three levels use walkers or rollators
The need can begin as level one, quickly progress, then revert to the lighter level of dependence. The variability makes it difficult for medical professionals and caregivers to determine need from one day to the next. A feature that could give the LiftWalker/LiftRollator the edge when it reaches the market is that the design appears versatile enough to serve all three levels.
To put the Liftwalker/LiftRollator to use, the caregiver pulls up a retractable leveraging bar, which deploys from the front legs some 18 inches above the top of the frame and locks in place. The person needing lifting assistance holds onto the lower half of the leveraging bars, like a two-handed grab bar, while the caregiver holds onto the upper half. Users can often pull themselves up with just this amount of assistance. If they need a boost, the caregiver can pull back while the user is pulling up, leveraging the person to standing position. A video clip on the LiftWalker/LiftRollator website, http://liftwalker.com, illustrates the procedure.
“The principle of leverage is very powerful,” Weaver said. He pointed out that in 251 BC Archimedes said, in so many words, “Give me a lever and I can leverage the world.”
No-manual lift product catalogs clearly indicate the lack of equipment designed for people at levels one, two and three, the target market for the LiftWalker/LiftRollator, and Weaver has discovered that the lower dependency categories are underserved at safe patient handling trade shows. At a recent show in Florida, Weaver found the technology and devices were aimed mainly “at helping people at classic dependency level four.” He explained that these are people who have no weight bearing ability, or so little weight bearing ability they are really considered a high level three. “So everyone … [who] is involved in safety and no-lifting programs is very focused on those types of people.”
“The reality is there hasn’t been any safe, convenient, practical or cost-effective way to deal with these people,” he said, describing them as the largest group of dependencies, particularly in nursing homes. “If you go to a 100-bed nursing home, 50 people would be going around in walkers and rollators, and of those 50, probably 20 … need help up out of a couch or chair every day.”
Countless studies show that regardless of the level of dependency, both the caregiver and the caregiver’s charge are vulnerable to the risks inherent in manual lifting. One culprit is the awkward position that the caregiver is forced into when helping someone stand.
“It’s no big deal to lift 40 pounds,” the inventor explained, “but if you have to do that all day, in awkward positions [to] help these … people out of their chair, that’s where you would have the cumulative effect that causes the back injuries.”
“It’s been a kind of hole in the no-lifting program because the only option you had to … give somebody an initial boost up out of a chair in order to use their walker … was to use a gait belt.” Though the gait belt, a strap around the waist of the dependent person, gives the caregiver a secure grip, he or she is still exposed to the musculoskeletal risks attached to lifting. “It’s just not a safe way to do it, [yet] it’s been the only way to do it.”
Weaver’s professional background supplied some of the inspiration for the invention. “I worked as an independent rep who sold patient lifting devices and no-lifting programs way back in 1991, before [the no lifting concept] became popular. I just saw this huge gap in not being able to deal with people who just needed a little bit of help out of their chairs,” he explained.
And the need for this light assistance can be just as pressing in people’s homes. Weaver’s own mother and father were an additional source of his inspiration. “Dad has a hard time getting up out of a chair,” Weaver explained, “so Mom comes over and gives him that little extra boost – and she’s in an awkward position – and they get hurt, all the time.”
An elderly friend was in the same situation. Weaver explained that the friend “hurt himself three times in six months helping his wife get up. … Once she’s up, she walks in her walker or rollator just fine, but she just had a hard time getting up out of the chair.” His friend would reach over and underneath his wife’s arm, in an awkward way, to help her up, Weaver said, and ended up hurting his back.
The inspiration came together some four years ago. He has built prototypes for experts to look over at trade shows. The present version incorporates modifications suggested by ergonomists and other specialists.
Weaver is not the first to venture into equipment for helping partly-dependent people to stand. Rival inventions include the Lift Walker – note the space between the words. Weaver is counting on convenience and cost-effectiveness of his invention as major selling points. The cost of the unit will be comparable to conventional walkers and rollators. He believes that using a LiftWalker/LiftRollator in a nursing home or hospital the first time a resident needs a walker or rollator will help keep both residents and caregivers safe from injury and save facilities tens of thousands of dollars in costs. He applies the same reasoning to the value of using the Liftwalker/LiftRollator, from the earliest stages of dependency, in the home.
A few years on the market will tell if the LiftWalker/LiftRollator is a way station to something even more useful and versatile for its target market. For the present, Craig Weaver can accept the laurels for pioneering a potentially-useful route in the no-manual lifting journey.
Sources: Craig Weaver; WeCare Products/Medical Group, LLC.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-05-13.