www.whyville.net Mar 29, 2009 Weekly Issue

Science Specialist

The Walker

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My 92 year old Grandpa (I call him Papa) uses a walker. A walker is a device used to assist individuals with balance and mobility while walking. Anyone who has ever slipped on a patch of ice knows how unnerving it can be to lose your balance - for a moment your world is literally turned upside down. Yet balance, the ability to control and maintain your body's position as it moves through space, is such an integral part of daily life that most people rarely give it conscious thought. There are conditions, however, that may impair your sense of balance and contribute to falls. The effects of aging are the most common causes of balance problems. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), falling is a common and potentially serious problem: 1 in 4 people over the age of 65 will fall during the next year.

Your brain, muscles, and bones work together to maintain your body's balance and to keep you from falling, whether you're walking, rising from a chair, or climbing stairs. They also let you navigate sloping or uneven surfaces. Balance relies on three types of sensory information. The first of these is visual: Your eyes tell you about your environment and your place within it. They help you sense obstacles and potential dangers, and form motor memories that prevent falls. The second type of sensory information comes from your body's internal sense of spatial orientation, independent of vision. This allows you, for example, to close your eyes and then wiggle your foot in any direction (go ahead and try it).

My Papa has two walkers, and both walkers make it easier for him to maintain his balance. The walker my Papa uses most frequently has two-wheels and is customized with tennis balls on its back legs. The fuzzy yellow balls work like shock absorbers, smoothing his ride and eliminating the annoying tap-tap-tap of the walker's legs hitting the floor. The two-wheel walker allows him to place weight on the walker as he moves. The legs with wheels allows him to easily push the walker forward, and the legs without wheels prevent the walker from rolling away while he's stepping forward.

My Papa's other walker has four wheels and is what he would call his Cadillac Walker, it's a metallic blue rolling walker with a seat (yep he can sit anytime), storage compartment (he carries his mail in it), and handle brakes (very important). His so-called Cadillac Walker, with four wheels, allows him to walk faster and is certainly a walker of all terrains with rotating wheels only on the front legs. My Papa uses the tennis ball walker outside (he can easily put into the back seat of his car), but uses the Cadillac Walker inside (to impress the ladies).

My Papa's walker enables him to get around more easily and feel more secure on his feet. And it is his walker that enabled him to make his acting debut in the short movie "The Walker":


All my Papa needs now is a GPS system on his walker, and yes after some research there really is such a thing. Being as directionally disoriented as I am, I am definitely going to have to get the GPS on my BMW Walker to keep me on track. As for my Papa he still gives me directions, drives me to the train station in the morning (given my recent car accident), lends me his car (but reminds me to keep both hands on the steering wheel), and has brunch with me on Sundays - and he does it all with his walker!

Author's Note: This was submitted to the blog by Heather, one of our corespondents.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_system http://www.vat19.com/blog/TennisBallWalker.jpg
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081107072015.htm http://sciencechicagoblog.com/2009/03/12/hydroplaning/

Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com


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